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Department: Leadership Q&A

Tips for coaching career advancement

Foster, Rhonda EdD, MPH, MS, RN, NEA-BC

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Nursing Management (Springhouse): January 2021 - Volume 52 - Issue 1 - p 56
doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000724924.01297.66
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Q I've had nurses interested in leadership roles ask me for advice on knowing when they're ready to take that step, and sometimes I have coworkers ask my opinion on when they should move up to the next position. Do you have any suggestions for how to mentor staff members and colleagues who are seeking guidance on role transitions?

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch wrote, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” I often have nurses ask me, “When is it time to seek my first leadership role?” And I also frequently speak with colleagues about knowing when it's time to advance to a position of greater authority and responsibility. The beauty of nursing is that it offers opportunities both through traditional organizational structures and via shared or collaborative governance structures to engage in aspects of leadership.

If I'm coaching a nurse interested in leadership, the initial questions that I explore are “What are you thinking of doing?” and “Why?” These two questions help me understand the motivation and forethought that has gone into the inquiry. First and foremost, it's critical for the nurse to have a new focus on staff and operations. As nurses consider the responsibility of managing a unit, service, division, or hospital, it's important to note that each role requires the leader to supply support and care for the nurses who care for the patients. This premise is true whether moving into a manager, director, or CNO role, and everything in between—the difference is simply that the scope is significantly greater as one moves up the ladder.

Like nursing, leadership is a calling and a commitment. In addition to considering if he or she is ready to move into a leadership position, I also ask the nurse to consider what he or she is passionate about. Is his or her interest and skill set best served in operations, education, one of the other multiple disciplines within healthcare, or even in a nontraditional department? Because leadership typically takes nurses away from direct patient care, their perspective must change to align with organizational needs and imperatives, as well as how to lead to achieve these goals.

When I'm discussing advancing up the leadership ladder with a colleague, motivation is also extremely important to consider. Often, the motivation is because he or she thinks it's time. However, just because an individual has been in one role for any length of time, doesn't necessarily mean that he or she is ready for the next one. A second motivator may be that a coworker was recently promoted, and the colleague thinks he or she is equally as qualified. Yet another may be that the colleague just completed a new degree, qualifying him or her for a new role. I suggest evaluating the leadership acumen exhibited in the current role. I ask the following questions: “Do you have influence and relationships in the position you're in now that will help you in the next role? Has your mentor suggested that you're ready for a new role? What's your record of accomplishments in your current position? Do you understand the work and responsibility required for the next role? Would you be willing to do the work of the next role without a title or added compensation to better understand aspects of the role and gain experience?”

Transformational leaders are needed in all areas of healthcare. The ability to think strategically, transform culture, and have organizational impact is a major part of any leadership role. Whether mentoring nurses new to leadership or seasoned leaders taking the next step, emphasize consideration of strengths in addition to areas for growth. In this way, you can help your staff members and colleagues make decisions from an objective perspective and ensure their success in a role that's a match for their passion and experience.

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