Clarifying Your Nursing Leadership Values

Do you know what your leadership values are and perhaps even more important – do you live them?   This is a question that I often ask my graduate students because your values should help drive your decision-making.  I was reminded of the importance of this the other day with a story that a friend related to me.  She is second in command in a large healthcare organization.  Her senior nurse leader was unable to attend an important strategic meeting with senior leaders from throughout the organization so she went in her place.  The CEO began the discussion talking about the need for succession planning as part of their strategic plan.  He then discussed current leaders who would be retiring before the end of the year.  My friend was surprised to hear the name of her senior nursing leader announced as someone who would be retiring in the next six months.  It did not seem like new information to anyone in the room other than her.  This leader, she explained, prides herself on her communication transparency calling it a core leadership value yet her plans had not been disclosed to her own leadership team.  It seemed to be a disconnect when transparency was being promoted as a core value.

Clarifying Leadership Values

In their book, The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner identify clarifying one’s values as one of the five best practices in leadership.  By identifying those principles that matter most, you will gain tremendous clarity and focus that will allow you to make consistent decisions and take committed action.  From their research, the authors report that leaders who have clear leadership philosophies and values are rated 40% higher on their leadership skills than those who don’t have clear values.  Finding your voice as a leader better allows you to make choose a direction, act with determination and make the tough choices that come with leadership roles.  Values should constitute your personal “bottom line” and tell you when to say no and when to say yes.   The clearer that you are about your values, the easier it will be to stay on your chosen path and commit to it.

Some examples of Leadership Core Values

  • A commitment to collaboration
  • A belief in the need for teamwork
  • A commitment to diversity
  • A belief in the need to foster innovation
  • A willingness to tolerate differences in opinions
  • A commitment to customer service
  • A belief in the need to develop staff at all levels of the organization
  • A commitment to a caring-based approach to leadership
  • A willingness to be vulnerable

Living Your Core Values

Being clear in expressing your values as a leader is important but staff will watch your behavior to see if you really live it.  In the case situation presented by my friend, the leader involved had not lived her core value about a belief in the need for transparency in communication.  When this happens, staff lose confidence in your leadership because the “talk” and the “walk” are incongruent.  Staff look to their leaders to clarify their values and want to share these values.  Shared values are very affirming on a team and can lead to exceptional outcomes.  Having a strong sense of your core values can also help you make decisions about whether a workplace culture is the right one for you.  All of us have had the experience of being on a team or walking into an environment where we have felt that we just didn’t belong.

Kouzes and Posner recommend that the first step on any leadership journey should be to clarify your values and beliefs that will guide your actions and decisions on path to success and significance.  In leadership roles, building shared values is also critical.  In times of crisis, nothing can help align an individual or a team more effectively than a refocus on core values.


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