The importance of leadership development programs for aspiring nurse leaders

Traditionally, nurses learned their basic skills through nursing school, gaining experience by working in hospitals or clinics. They earned ...

The importance of leadership development programs for aspiring nurse leaders
Traditionally, nurses learned their basic skills through nursing school, gaining experience by working in hospitals or clinics. They earned their way into leadership roles through their competence in nursing, not necessarily through further education. While it has worked for some, this route is no longer sustainable from an organizational perspective, for both nurses and for patient outcomes.

Whether nurses find themselves managing staff and departments by default or whether they aspire to become future leaders, further education in nurse leadership has become a necessity. With the current shortages in the nursing profession as well as the shortage of physicians, leadership qualities in nurses are becoming a much-needed requirement in the healthcare environment. Nurses are not always leaders by virtue of their qualifications, but often by their attitude to work and the way they interact with their staff and patients. Nurses who are natural leaders motivate their peers; they are creative, innovative and passionate about excellent patient care.


Leadership in nursing is not restrictive. Those who prefer to work in an administrative role can get involved in the financial or data analysis side of nursing, where there is much scope for using their nursing skills. Others find themselves in an advocacy role, using their expertise to create and change policies within their organizations and communities, thus making a difference. Some nurses have also followed their passion into advisory and regulatory roles within nursing federations and state departments. 

Characteristics of a good nurse leader

Good nurses have strength of character, compassion, loyalty, honesty and a passion for what they do. Some nurses are able to demonstrate these qualities with flair, motivating and inspiring their colleagues to strive for quality and perfection. 


Strong communication and organizational skills are essential to the role of nurse leader, as is the ability to adapt to emergency situations. This all comes with experience, as does an ethos of excellence in everything they do. 


Leadership in nursing means not only the management and motivation of teams but also the flexibility to adapt to various critical situations that arise in a constantly changing workplace. With the rapid advancements in medical technology and the diverse nature of their daily jobs, nurses need an appetite for ongoing learning to both improve their knowledge and enhance their job satisfaction. 


The availability of online education and clinical nurse leader programs at institutions such as Cleveland State University offer aspiring nurse leaders the opportunity to further their studies while still holding down their regular nursing jobs. Whether the focus is on evidence-based practice, information systems, finance or intervention on a political or ethical level, these programs teach critical thinking skills and analysis, as well as how and when to apply leadership skills, helping nurses decide on their preferred leadership style.

Collaboration with multi-disciplinary teams

The move towards multi-disciplinary teams in healthcare has created a need for nurses to interact with teams of professionals from various medical disciplines with a view to optimum patient care. 


The success of multi-disciplinary collaboration depends on the nurse leader’s ethics of professionalism and confidentiality, qualities that are emphasized in leadership training courses. It usually falls upon the nurse leader to keep track of the treatment plans and interventions administered by various members of the team. The nurse leader is tasked with updating patient records with details of the treatment plan and prescribed medicines, coordinating the roles of the individual team members and making the information available to the entire team. This role requires excellent communication and organizational skills as nurse leaders deal with people at different levels and in a diverse range of disciplines.


An article published by the National Library of Medicine, “The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health”, advocates for a transformed health system with leadership provided by nurses, partnering with healthcare professionals across the disciplinary spectrum. The article calls upon nurse leaders to take responsibility for problems in healthcare organizations by identifying areas of waste, conducting research, implementing evidence-based practices and getting involved in the formulation of policies and procedures.

Evidence-based practice and Mentorship

With their extensive nursing experience and specific leadership training, nurse leaders are well-positioned to play a role in the research process and make informed decisions around patient care. Based on their research and experience, they are able to set up evidence-based routines for patient care within the organization, sharing their expertise with state and federal nursing bodies if applicable. 


Evidence-based practice is a form of mentorship, as junior nurses learn by following the prescribed procedures and gain confidence in their practice. It also sets standards for healthcare organizations and minimizes the possibility of errors. 

Leadership styles

When delivered in a professional manner, good leadership styles affect job satisfaction and improve nurse retention rates and patient outcomes. Formal education in the different leadership styles equips the prospective nurse leader with information regarding how these styles affect their staff and the environment in which they work, as well as how they may be adapted to the circumstances in which they find themselves. 


For example, an autocratic leader makes decisions on their own without input from others. This style works well when making quick decisions in an emergency room, where timing is crucial to the survival of patients.


Transformational and laissez-faire leadership styles are similar in that the leader encourages and inspires staff to make decisions on their own, with assistance where necessary, while learning at the same time. These two styles are ideal in a nurse mentoring situation.


Situational leadership allows for some flexibility and a change in approach as the situation demands, while transactional leadership works well with short-term goals with a focus on efficiency and performance. 


Supportive leadership is where the leader supports their staff in all their decisions, shares power among their staff and provides them with the knowledge and tools to do their work.


Ideally, nurse leaders should be able to combine some of the above styles, depending on who they are working with and what the circumstances dictate.

Conclusion

As can be seen, nurse leaders play an important role in healthcare organizations as they manage and inspire their fellow nurses, interact with professionals from various disciplines, determine nursing best practices and advocate for change. 


Training in these areas serves to hone management skills, enhance leadership qualities and add clarity to the process of smart leadership. Education empowers nurse leaders to achieve both their personal and professional goals and adds an edge of professionalism to everything they do.

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