If you want to take your career in nursing all the way and use your leadership skills to improve the lives of everyone around you, it’s never too early to start. Some of those skills can be improved before you have anybody working under you, and as soon as you do, you’ll be able to get to work on the rest. You’ll need to have confidence in your strengths but retain the ability to recognize your weaknesses. You’ll need to work hard, but you’ll also need to be smart about how you expend your energy. This article provides some tips on the things you can do to improve your chances of success as a nurse leader.
Find a mentor
Few things can provide as much of a boost to your career as finding a mentor. Although we tend to think of seeking mentorship as something done early on in a career, you can actually pursue it at any stage of professional development. Even people at the very top of their profession often look to their predecessors for support and advice. Specific types of mentorship are needed to develop leadership skills, and sometimes these mentors are easier to find after you are well-established and have made your ambition clear. Some mentors look specifically for talented people whose skills they can nurture. Don’t be shy about letting it be known that you’re looking for a mentor. Those at the top will recognize this as a sign of an individual with the wisdom and self-knowledge necessary to lead.
Just as you should be looking up to those who have more experience than you, you should also ensure that you’re being supportive of those who work under you or on the same level. When you’re open with people and show them respect, you can begin to build up the kind of reputation that will help you climb the ranks. It’s important to recognize that this doesn’t just mean being helpful wherever you can. If you do that as a nurse, you will quickly exhaust yourself. It means being honest about your limitations so that people understand that you will always do your best for them. It means being a good listener and taking people seriously even when that’s all you can do. Take the time to get to know the people around you and understand their needs.
The more that you are able to cultivate respect among the people you work with, the easier you will find it to set standards. This could be formal – clarifying the rules for people working under you – or informal – encouraging those around you to do the right thing. Either way, it all begins with your behavior. Make sure that you have a thorough grasp of the ethical principles of the profession and seek out opportunities to discuss difficult issues so that you can continually deepen your understanding. Remember that it’s not just the big things that matter. Basics like good timekeeping and attention to detail are also important, and if you get these things right, people around you will feel more confident that they can, too.
Own your mistakes
When you’re working hard to set standards, it’s easy to become frustrated when you make mistakes – even though, sooner or later, everybody does. We live in a culture where getting things wrong is seen as shameful, and that attitude can easily affect nurses. Acknowledging mistakes is not only important to patient safety – it also helps to create a positive working atmosphere. People will ultimately have more trust in you if they can see that you’re human and if they feel confident that you will always be honest. You can also use mistakes as a learning opportunity for yourself and for others. You can show your team the right way to face up to the difficult emotional issues surrounding them, as well as the importance of moving forward in positive ways, reducing the risk of similar errors occurring in the future.
Learn to handle conflicts
Sometimes, the problems you encounter won’t be of your own making but will develop between other people. If you’re serious about being there as a leader, you can’t afford to look the other way and treat it as none of your business. People working under your supervision will need to know that you will ensure they have a safe working environment. Take the time to learn about de-escalation techniques and work on your listening skills. Most day-to-day conflicts can be resolved fairly simply if you handle them with patience and respect. Ensure that both parties feel their concerns have been taken into account. When there’s a serious personality clash, make the effort to find ways of minimizing the time that those people need to spend working together, and ask them to focus on being professional in return. If you encounter one-sided bullying or harassment, don’t hesitate to remove the perpetrator from your team and take further action as required.
Let your passion show
People will always be more willing to listen to you if they can see why you feel the way you do. Let people know that it’s not just about your personal ambition but also about your passion for nursing itself. Nobody takes on this kind of challenging role unless they believe that it matters, so let others see that. It’s not unprofessional to show your happiness when things go well or to let people know that you’re excited by positive developments. Show your team members that you’re pleased for them when they enjoy success. When times are hard, remind your team why the effort is worthwhile. Let your faith in the profession give them courage when their own wavers. A good leader can maintain morale even in the most difficult times by demonstrating personal conviction.
Keep on learning
One of the best things about nursing is the opportunity it presents to keep on learning. Expanding your knowledge and enriching your understanding is vital if you want to be considered for senior positions, so take every opportunity you can to do so. This includes doing your research and making smart decisions about placements, as well as asking questions every time you get to work with people who know more about a particular area than you do. It’s also a good idea to take further courses. Designed for those entering nursing as a second career, a distance Masters of Nursing at Elmhurst University makes it easy to fit study around your work, and it will also make you eligible for postgraduate or doctoral programs. This could even lead to you doing your own research and publishing papers that advance the science of nursing, which is an excellent way to mark yourself out as a leading figure within the profession.
Ongoing learning isn’t only about boosting your skills. It’s also about keeping pace with change and recognizing that nursing is a profession whose success depends on constant innovation. You can’t afford to get stuck in your ways, especially if you’re taking on the responsibilities of a leader. This means that you will need to be ready to let go of approaches you have invested a lot of faith in if the evidence shows that they’re not actually the best way to get the job done. You will need to be willing to give new methods a try even if you find it hard to understand why they would be helpful. You’ll need to learn how to set your preconceptions aside and evaluate new approaches fairly and honestly. Being seen to do this will make it easier for others to accept change, and it will keep you from being seen as inflexible at the stage in your career when you most need your potential to be recognized.
Work on your problem-solving skills
One of the benefits of keeping your mind flexible is that it also lends itself to the kind of critical thinking and problem-solving that is essential to day-to-day nursing. You’ll learn critical thinking techniques when you study, but for them to serve you well, you need to keep using them on an ongoing basis. Strive to be aware of your biases and emotional tendencies, which may interfere with your decision-making. Nobody can be purely objective, but when you know your weaknesses, you can work around them, and you’ll have a clearer idea of when you need to seek advice from others. In general, it’s useful to talk with other people about any problems they need help with solving. This allows you to also learn from the experience.
Network, network, network
Nursing is a highly social profession where you’ll spend a lot of time talking to your colleagues about a wide range of subjects, but if you want to get to the top, you will need to go beyond that. Where the opportunity presents itself, try to socialize outside your own department and build up a network of contacts across the wider infrastructure of the place where you work. This will have immediate benefits. When you need to access information or call in a favor, it’s always better to be able to reach out to someone with whom you have a pre-existing connection, or at least to know the person who can help you by name. Your team as a whole will benefit if everyone knows that they can go through you when they need assistance, and this will boost your reputation for helpfulness. Keep in mind that when it comes to opportunities for promotion, recommendations can sometimes come from unexpected places.
Help others climb the ranks
Sometimes, ambitious people feel that the only way to get to the top is to climb over other people. In fact, ample research has demonstrated that this isn’t how it works, and in nursing, where everything depends on cooperation, that sort of attitude can be damaging to your chances of promotion. A much better strategy is one of mutual support. it you offer your services as a mentor, you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn from the process, simply because it will give you a fresh perspective on what you already know. Offering general support for talented or hardworking people who are new to the profession will boost your reputation, as many of them will credit or recommend you when they’re successful, and they may end up in positions where they can help you directly. To put it simply, when you support other people, you also improve your own prospects.
Be true to yourself
While the above tips are valuable, you shouldn’t try to memorize them and follow them to the letter. They’re there to guide you rather than tell you precisely what to do. In the end, you will have to chart your own course, because only you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie. There are many different leadership styles you might choose to adopt, and you will need to find the one that best suits who you are. Strengthening your skills and boosting your abilities is important, but don’t try to sublimate who you are as a person in an effort to appear more professional. It will use up energy that could be better spent elsewhere, and nursing is demanding enough as it is. Be open about who you are and find a way to build your professional identity around that.
Nursing is a challenging profession, and it would be impossible without good leaders. Remember that, in the end, leadership is about service and making the best contribution you can to that larger effort. If you keep this in mind as you develop your career, you will have the potential to help everyone around you achieve the very best of their potential.