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5 Tips For Aspiring Nursing Leaders

Nursing was seen as a “calling” rather than a career option in its early days. Nurses were seen as the doctors’ servants and were tasked with duties like cooking, cleaning, and laundry, in addition to providing patient care.

However, the profession has evolved, and nurses are more than mere medical aides. The number of nurses pursuing higher education is enough evidence for the profession’s development within the last two decades. Today, regardless of their current job titles, all nurses serve a crucial role in modern-day healthcare.

Dubbed the “angel of the battlefield,” Clara Barton didn’t foresee a career as a first-line manager when she started her first nursing position during the American Civil War (1861 – 1865). She merely wished to contribute positively to society. But because of her good leadership skills, she was able to guide and inspire others to perform better, which ultimately improved patient care.

So, if you are an experienced nurse aspiring to become a nurse manager, or just to improve your bedside clinical skills, follow these five tips to expand your leadership potential.

1. Embrace being a lifelong learner

It can be difficult for even the most seasoned nurse to keep up and be ready to adapt to the continuous changes in healthcare. If you want to take on a leadership role, you cannot just rely on your clinical expertise. You’ll need to acquire additional credentials to prepare you for the role.

Rather than quitting your day job to pursue a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, join an online DNP program. With post-graduate level training, you’ll know how to incorporate new methods and equipment into current nursing practices and pass this knowledge on to others.

You will also need to hone your critical thinking skills and develop outstanding written and communication skills. Planning, budgeting, quality improvement, and staff relations are among the new duties taken on by nurse managers. Attend continuing education workshops, seminars, and conferences to keep yourself current on emerging healthcare trends.

With your competencies thus improved, your patients and teammates can rest assured that you will use the specialized training to provide safer, better-quality comfort care and take on leadership roles.

2. Be a mentee and become a mentor

While it’s true that imitation is the purest form of adulation, it can also help you become a better leader. Find people whose leadership style you like and whose opinions you believe in. Put your sharp eye for observation to work and see how they interact with, inspire, and influence others – not only the subordinates, but also higher-ups and patients. 

Use tactics that are consistent with your principles. Identify a leadership style you relate to. Authentic leaders who are true to themselves and are self-aware of their weaknesses and strengths seldom fail to inspire trust and loyalty in the people they supervise.

Next, apply your new knowledge by mentoring less-experienced nurses. This will not only give budding professionals in the field a chance to succeed, but will also allow you to put your leadership abilities on display. Keep in mind that no matter how good you are at your job, it is not easy to move your career ahead if your boss doesn’t notice your great work.

3. Build confidence in yourself

It’s easy to become comfortable in your current role, but if you want to advance your nursing career, you must build positive self-confidence. The first step is figuring out what makes you less confident about yourself.

Try this exercise to help you identify the root cause of a lack of self-confidence:

  • Keep a running journal of any poor self-confidence phrases or expressions for a week.
  • For each entry, ask yourself who or what caused you to doubt yourself.
  •  Mention some evidence that negates these thoughts, such as, “I’m good at solving puzzles,” or, “I’m the kind of person that says hi to trees and dogs.”
  • Decide if you want to allow the voice saying, “You shouldn’t, you can’t, you’re not good enough, etc.” to control your thoughts and actions.
  • Write down at least five positive things about yourself, and add them to the list regularly.
  • Be sure to mention some good things that other people say about you.

When you have attained a satisfactory level of self-confidence, you will find yourself speaking up during team meetings, offering suggestions to problems that come up, and generally, being more involved at work.

Effective nurse leadership skills also include learning how to keep your emotions in check. While there are no good or bad emotions, the way you express them can be good or bad. Good leaders are aware of their feelings and can communicate them in appropriate ways. They are consequently better able to communicate their sentiments, avoid or handle disputes, and get over challenging emotions quickly.

4. Cultivate relationships with fellow nurses and patients

Knowing yourself isn’t always enough when aspiring to become a leader. You must also know other people in order to be able to lead them effectively. Empathy is a trait that nurses naturally have in abundance, and as an aspiring nursing leader, you should excel in it.

Treat patients and their attendants with the utmost compassion. Make time to check in on your fellow nurses regularly. Find out about their backgrounds, ambitions, and possibly even their interests and tastes. When you show interest in your colleagues, without being intrusive, of course, they will trust you more and return your kindness in ways you’d have never imagined.

5. Be prepared for the unexpected

Nothing in life is certain. You never know what will occur next, tomorrow, the following week, or at any other moment. Good leaders understand this and adapt to changing circumstances efficiently.

Although it is hard to always be prepared to tackle an ugly situation, you can still take steps to ensure that you are rarely taken by surprise. A good place to start is being observant. See if your team is trained well enough to respond to an emergency crisis. Loop up medical records to check if there is a patient whose condition might necessitate major changes soon. Understand what supplies you should always have in stock and which patients call for more regular visits than others. These issues should be on your mind if you want to be adaptable and organized.


Being a successful nurse leader requires more than just one or two things. Remember that learning never ends, even when you already hold a Master’s degree in nursing. Develop your intuition and trust your gut instincts. Recognize a doctor grieving a loss or an overworked nurse on your team. Send the former a grief survival kit and take the latter out for coffee or lunch. These random acts of kindness go a long way in engendering trust in people. Briefly put, you will be well on your way to being an outstanding nurse leader if you possess the ideal combination of strength, inner wisdom, empathy, adaptability, and managerial expertise.

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