A former student recently called me to tell me that she had just been selected for her first leadership role. I asked her how she felt and she told me that she was excited. She also felt some fear and apprehension. Her concern was that she could fail, and that failure in leadership is visible to everyone in the organization. I reassured her that her feelings were normal. I had great confidence in her, as did the nurse leaders in her organization who selected her. As you become seasoned in leadership, it can be easy to forget the experience of being a new nurse leader. We can make this road easier by providing guidance and tips for surviving and thriving.
1. Feel the Fear but Do It Anyway
If you don’t feel somewhat fearful about assuming a new leadership role then you might be underestimating the challenges. Fear can be a useful emotion, as long as it does not escalate to the level of paralyzing behaviors. It can help you to get in there and work harder. Practice and preparation will help to alleviate the fear. It will never truly go away, but it can be managed.
2. Listen More than You Talk
To gain the trust of staff, you need to avoid rushing to judgment about “what is wrong” based on your observations. At the same time, you do need to take note of what you see. Listen during your conversations with staff and carefully observe what happens on the unit when you make rounds. Reach out to stakeholders including patients, interdisciplinary team members and other department leaders. They will provide you with important insights into your work setting, and you will want to build strong working relationships with them.
3. Don’t Overreact to Criticism
Negative feedback can be hard to take in a leadership role when you work hard, and may even feel a little under-appreciated by your staff. Most negative feedback is probably not directed at you personally, although you may feel this way. Rather, the individual is expressing frustration with their situation. A common criticism that new managers receive often revolves around staff schedules or assignments. A staff member may say that you are unfair or you don’t know how to properly develop a fair staffing plan. What they really mean is that they don’t like their schedule or assignment.
4. Commit Yourself to a Learning Journey
Leadership is a journey and your development as a leader will be built through your day to day experience. It is also important to commit yourself to personal development. Dr. Maria Shirey, a nursing expert on nursing leadership, offers some good personal development strategies:
- Read books about authenticity in leadership.
- Complete a self-assessment of personal strengths and identify your shadow side.
- Develop the art of listening and self-reflection.
- Insert humor into every aspect of life.
- Commit to a philosophy of life-long learning.
- Participate in leadership development opportunities
5. Find a Good Mentor
You will want to build strong relationships with your staff but remember that they are not your leadership peers. You should not use members of your staff as sounding boards particularly when the topic is confidential. Look for an experienced leader in your organization who can help mentor you during your transition.
As a new nurse leader, you will make mistakes. In research that I have conducted with leaders, they indicate that the key is having the insight to be able to look at your mistakes, acknowledge them, learn from them and even laugh about them. What is true about leadership is that if you are reflective, you will soon be able to see your own growth and be amazed at your progress.