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3 Behaviors of an Effective Nurse Leader

The complex state of 21st century healthcare has created a growing need for a new description of behaviors expected from nurse leaders. Presently, the academic authors of nurse leadership identify transformational leadership as the model framework of behaviors for nurse leaders to learn, perfect, and demonstrate. Although the components of transformational leadership are foundational, there are additional areas of expertise needed of a modern effective nurse leader. My several years as a nurse leader included participating in nurse leadership professional development workshops, conferences, and on-the-job training. Thinking through my experiences, I’d like to share three impactful nurse leadership behaviors that emerged as best practice recommendations for fellow residing and emerging nurse leaders.

1. Stay Informed on Innovation in Healthcare Technology

It’s hard to imagine providing care to individuals in our communities without the use of healthcare technology and information systems. Even though you may not have the responsibility of finding technology solutions for your organization’s problems, it is important to understand the products in use at your facility, as well as what’s on the horizon for healthcare technology overall. Autonomously keeping up to date on current healthcare technology helps nurse leaders:

  • Earn a better seat at the decision table when technology products are presented or purchased
  • Expand your thought process, knowledge and innovative use of the products
  • Allow proactive decision making in anticipation of product updates or changes

For example, researching the company that developed your organization’s electronic health record (EHR) expands your knowledge in several areas. You could learn current research and evidence-based practice studies using data collected from the EHR, the history and background of the company’s leaders, current developments or enhancements, as well as the opinions of nurses and nurse leaders who currently use the product. In the current business of healthcare, data and technology are powerhouses. Therefore, having a different insight and perspective and an educated voice can be a substantial benefit for nurse leaders.

2. Engage in Mental FITness Activities

The intensity of the thought processes needed to develop high-level innovation can be strenuous. As nurse leaders, we spend countless hours researching, investigating, and developing practice changes, improving patient outcomes, and engaging emerging leaders. How many of those hours are dedicated to our own holistic development? The term Focused Intensive Training (FIT) involves time spent without distraction to:

  • Develop innovation
  • Improve knowledge
  • Complete important projects

As much as I would love to take credit for this concept, I became familiar with the terminology after reading “Deep Work,” by Cal Newport. In his book, Newport identifies highly intelligent and powerful individuals in business and technology, who eliminate distractions in their lives at intermittent points to spark innovation and creativity. To nurse leaders, this concept may seem unobtainable and nearly impossible to remove one’s self from the day-to-day operations, meetings, and necessary interactions of healthcare. However, through proactive shifts to accommodate these small periods of time, FIT is possible and worthwhile. Around the middle of my career, I began to realize that each night, right before I went to sleep, I thought about all the problems of the day, the committee meeting discussions, brief conversations with staff, patients, and family members. During these “free” moments, my brain developed checklists, opportunities for improvements, revised workflows, and many additional innovative thought processes. Eventually, I began to get out of bed and sit in the spare bedroom of my house with my laptop, a notebook, and a pencil. Listening to the sounds of the night, I developed projects from the chatter in my brain. Recognizing the productivity of these “free” moments, I created a shift in my work style and began scheduling 1 or 2 days of PTO for mental fitness every other month. In those moments, I embraced solidarity and the opportunity to create work that was meaningful to my professional development, as well as the nurses that sought direction from my leadership.

3. Prioritize Mentoring Opportunities for Emerging Nurse Leaders

There is an unwritten expectation of mentorship within the nurse leadership community. It is a rite of passage to seek and find one or sometimes a few emerging nurse leaders to guide down the winding pathways of professionalism and nurse leadership. But…. buyers beware! As novice nurse leaders seek mentors, mentors must also research and investigate potential nurse leader mentees. The evaluation of a mentoring opportunity should involve informal interview sessions with a potential candidate. This action will help you to decide not only the alignment of personality characteristics and behaviors, but also the candidate’s level of morale and passion for becoming an influential nurse leader. Making informed decisions on who to mentor prevents instances of negative personal feelings attached to work relationships. If you were to quantify the various and brief chats, emails, and impromptu discussions with potential nurse leaders, you would see why it is important to wisely give your time to individuals who seek the same level of enlightenment or engagement. (I’m not speaking of student nurse leaders who are eager to complete their lengthy capstone projects with a recognizable leader within their organization.) Mentorship is a collaborative journey, that involves personal time and energy commitment. Therefore, do not be afraid to help find a better suited mentor, if you believe the mentee is not a right fit for your leadership style.

Final Thoughts

As I climbed the arduous clinical ladder, I soon began to realize that although I obtained a formal education in executive nurse leadership, my education was far from complete. During those years, I also spent countless hours researching best practices for nursing, networking with industry leaders, and exploring innovative concepts in business and technology. By recognizing my curiosity for knowledge and then applying the innovative techniques I investigated over the years, I learned new expectations of modern nurse leaders. What additional practice behaviors do you believe describe an effective nurse leader?


Redefining the Artistry of Nurse Leadership

During this webinar we discuss viewing nurse leadership as an art and exploring different techniques. Through this webinar, we hope to inspire nurse leaders to move beyond traditional leadership boundaries and possibly redefine their leadership purpose and legacy in nursing.

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