Nurses: Leadership, Is it Nature or Nurture?

Nurses, let us critically think about nursing leadership. Leadership, is it nature or nurture? While most would agree that a person’s charisma plays a role, I suggest that leadership skills are developed over time through learning. Those of us who are educated in the area of science readily accept that science is a learned process.

While there are known leadership traits that help a leader to lead, much of leadership is a learned process according to Quinn (1996), Goleman (2002) and Kouzes & Posner (2002).

So the good news is, for those of us who are not gifted with inherent leadership charisma, leadership abilities can certainly be learned. Leadership behavior is dynamic. In fact, today, most collegiate nursing educational programs make leadership principles a part of their curricula. Certainly programs at the graduate and doctoral level for nurses contain a significant focus on teaching leadership principles.

Many of us know skilled leadership when we see it, especially when we look at nursing leaders in our organizations. In fact, for many of us, this is the way we learn best. By witnessing effective nursing leadership in action, we too can learn the art and science of leadership. “Titles are granted, but it’s your behavior that wins you respect” (Kouzes & Posner, 2007). Kouzes & Posner continue, “Leadership is not about personality; it’s about behavior (p.23).”

Leadership opportunities for nurses are abounding in today’s healthcare. There are leadership characteristics demonstrated in various ways all around us every single day (Kouzes & Posner). The reality is that nurses, while pursuing advancement in their careers, often inherit leadership responsibilities. In other cases, leadership roles are simply thrust upon us.

In order to advance the leadership skills that you admire most, go out of your way to fulfill these roles by becoming a member of a nursing committee/council, orientate a new nurse or obtain certification in a specialty. If you have the leadership skills that others lack, then lead others by actively passing along what you have learned to those who are willing to follow in your footsteps.

Quinn (1996) states that “change” can only begin with one individual. We can change the world only by changing ourselves (Quinn, 1996). In the course of my career, I have been in the role of both mentor, and mentee and have chosen to learn about leadership. Every nurse can choose to be a nurse leader by learning leadership behavior beginning with self exactly where they are.


Goleman D, Boyatzis R & McKee A. Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business Review, 2002.

Konuzes J M & Posner BZ. The Leadership Challenge (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

Quinn R. Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within. San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 1996.

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