Gaining Leadership

“Every nurse is a leader,” declared Vangie Dennis, BSN, CNOR, CMLSO, director of patient care practice at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta. Dennis co-presented “We Want YOU for Leadership: Developing Inspiring Leaders” at the 2016 Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) Surgical Conference and Expo.

Leadership is not a quality reserved for nurse managers or directors. Fostering potential in staff should be a goal of those managers. Student nurses and new staff must also take it upon themselves to explore their strengths.

“Nurses need to be accountable for their own professional growth,” Dennis noted in an interview with ADVANCE. One nurse who took that sentiment and ran with it is Kristy Wheeler, BSN, RN, CNOR, CST, a clinical nurse II in Baltimore. She also was a panelist at the AORN session.

Show What You’re Made Of
“Just because I’m a clinical nurse doesn’t mean there isn’t leadership in my current job,” Wheeler explained. “You have to show the initiative.”

If there is an interesting project in the department, volunteer for it, she suggested. Representing the unit on hospital-wide committees is another avenue for nurses to display their interest in leadership. New nurses need to see that change is valued within the organization.

Preparation and presentation are essential leadership traits, especially for novice nurses. “You can present anything if you know your audience,” Wheeler told ADVANCE. “Listen to what people really need.”

Coming to meetings well-prepared is a key way to gain respect of higher-ups in the organization. Strong leaders need to display a willingness to pitch in. Nothing should be beneath them; they will do whatever needs to be done for the good of the team.

Who Makes a Good Leader?
In the conference presentation, Dennis shared that, “Leadership is a process by which a person influences others to accomplish an objective and directs in a way that makes it more cohesive and coherent.”

She detailed principles of an effective nurse leader in another slide. The nurse must:

  • Know people and look out for their well-being
  • Keep each other informed
  • Develop a sense of responsibility in people
  • Ensure tasks are understood/supervised/accomplished
  • Learn as a team.

Nurses who want to take a leadership path need to tell their manager that they have these goals. “Nursing is an open door for opportunities,” Dennis said. Management, informatics and research are just some of the avenues within the profession that require leadership skills. In the conference presentation, she encouraged aspiring nurse leaders, “Challenge the process. Find out what most needs improvement.”

Many hospitals have clinical ladders and/or formalized training programs for nurses. Dennis’ employer, Emory Healthcare, has a formal leadership training program. Since adult learners take a longer time to process new information, new concepts need to be approached from several different ways before they will stick.

Millennials like to see themselves as leaders. What do organizations need to do to attract the next generation? “How can we give those people the skills they need so that when the opportunity comes, they are ready to take it?” Wheeler asked in her interview.

Empowering Nurses to Speak Up
Management, by turn, must foster those up-and-coming leaders. “We must welcome new ideas,” Dennis said. Developing trust and competence in novice nurses is a reliable predictor of their career satisfaction. “I fully believe in empowerment,” Dennis said. Management should not want “yes men” or “yes women.”

“A leader drives the team forward,” she continued. “The secret of leadership is the ability to inspire others with faith in their own high potential.”

Wheeler, who began her nursing career in 2011, is president of the Baltimore chapter of AORN. Currently, she is the youngest person in the organization to hold an executive-level position. “My journey in leadership is through my nursing organization,” she explained.

Indeed, professional groups such as AORN may afford new nurses more leadership opportunities than their employers. For example, AORN has a volunteer leadership academy that Wheeler has participated in. Going to those academies at the local level inspired her to become more involved nationally.

She is also working with the University of Maryland School of Nursing, to make students aware of different nursing career paths. “Mentorship is a hot topic in nursing right now,” she noted. “I’m still young in my career, but I can help somebody out.” Advising a mentee (Wheeler currently has two) is a way even novice nurses can expand their leadership skills. “Find someone who reminds you of yourself earlier in your career.”

SEE ALSO: Leveraging the Power of an Engaged Workforce

Give a Boost
Of course, mentoring is a two-way street. Wheeler also relies on the guidance of her own mentor. Building those healthy relationships is a way for nurses to drop the restrictive mindset that nurses “eat their young.”

Dennis explained to ADVANCE, “If we don’t grow our own, we will be dinosaurs.” Effective leaders encourage their fellow staff members to support each other. When a colleague hasn’t had a break, for example, a leader speaks up on his or her behalf. Nurses look out for each other and keep each other informed of various developments. Integrating and learning as a team is part of leadership and should not fall solely on the boss.

Managers, however, must lead by example. “When the process gets tough, as leaders we all need to engage and be part of the change.” Dennis said. Managers need to be transparent with staff to keep them informed of the organization’s strategic goals.

Winning Over Peers
She continued, “Effective communication by leadership is key to winning trust and confidence.” It helps fellow nurses understand how to achieve objectives for the good of the team.

“To be leader means listening and communicating in the right way,” Wheeler said. Leaders, whether or not they are formal managers, inspire a shared vision among their fellow nurses. They provide others with the tools and methods to solve problems, Dennis outlined in the presentation.

Leaders use their skills to get their colleagues to buy into the change processes necessary for growth. Visionary leaders “use the fill capabilities of the organization by developing a team spirit so the department can achieve its fullest capabilities,” Dennis wrote. They share the resulting glory with everyone on the team.

Danielle Bullen is a staff writer. Contact her at [email protected].

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