Characteristics of Strong Nursing Leaders

By CareerSmart Learning Contributor, July 15, 2017, as published by Healthcare Hot Spot


While everyone is hopefully fortunate enough in their professional life to encounter a manager, supervisor, or leader who makes their work life better, oftentimes it is difficult to articulate exactly what makes that special leader so effective. If the characteristics of a strong leader could be boiled down to a simple recipe, becoming a great leader or simply a better one could be attainable by following instructions. Luckily, after a five-year study, the recipe for being a strong leader was found:

  1. Direction and communication. A strong leader has a vision for team goals and the direction to achieve those goals. Equally important is that a strong leader communicates that knowledge with their team. It’s not enough for a leader to have a strong sense of direction if they cannot communicate their goals to their team. Conversely, it’s not enough for a leader to be able to communicate their goals if the entire team feels the direction is misguided.
  2. Sense of purpose. A dedicated team has a strong sense of purpose, and the leader should reiterate it often. While a lot of people get into the healthcare field because it is a calling, a strong leader reaffirms the team’s purpose over time. A sense of purpose is not only related to why someone gets up every morning and goes to work, it imbues a meaning within every action carried out by a healthcare provider. In a hospital, one leader might tell employees to wash their hands, but a strong leader will explain why there is a need to be diligent about hand hygiene. A strong leader defines and inspires purpose for the team.
  3. Reliability and trust. People might question if certain employees will show up for a meeting, but people never doubt that a strong leader will show up. Reliability and trust go hand-in-hand because without one the other doesn’t matter. A team will often approach a reliable leader whether to discuss a difficult case or ask a question about protocol or care. Just because a leader is reliable does not mean that a team will use them as a resource if trust is not also present. This is not to say that a leader should know everything. On the contrary, a leader knows how to find out the information needed, gets the answer, and communicates it back to the team or individual. When a leader is not reliable or trustworthy, it is not uncommon to see a team send their questions to a different manager or supervisor, one who is reliable and trustworthy. 
  4. Self-knowledge. Understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses allows a strong leader to excel where their strengths lie and find ways to work with their weaknesses. Being aware of weaknesses doesn’t mean that a strong leader will avoid certain tasks, but they might do certain tasks a little differently to engage their strengths rather than a weakness.  In addition to playing to their strengths, strong leaders will use their self-awareness to improve their weakness. For example, if a leader holds a weekly staff meeting but doesn’t like speaking in front of people, a strong leader would work to become a better public speaker (Bennis, 1984 as cited in Weiss & Tappen, 2015).

Weiss, S.A. & Tappen, R.M.  (Eds.).  (2015). Essentials of Nursing Leadership and Management.  Philadelphia, PA: F.A. Davis Company.

July 15, 2017

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