New Nurses: How to Develop Strong and Marketable Leadership Skills
For nurses who are just starting their career, the thought of rising into a position
of leadership can seem like a far-off goal. But while climbing the ranks certainly
takes time and often additional education, it’s never too early to start honing
those leadership skills. In fact, developing and demonstrating the ability to lead
others in a positive, productive manner can make you more marketable regardless of
what stage of career you’re currently in.
But, what if leadership doesn’t come naturally to you? What if you’ve always been
more of a follower, or the idea of taking charge makes you feel uncomfortable? The
good news is, these skills can be learned and strengthened. Let’s take a look at a
few of the strategies you can employ to become a better leader.
Be mindful of who you follow.
Most new nurses are told to listen to other, more seasoned nurses when they’re just
starting out. While this advice is certainly sound, it’s important to also recognize
that not every one of your colleagues will be aspiring for the same things as you.
For instance, someone who’s just in it to get a paycheck will have much different
motivation than someone looking to advance their career.
Take, for example, an older nurse who might suggest that you avoid joining a certain
committee because “it’s all political” or “they never get anything done.” Yet, if
you want to make a name for yourself and start developing your leadership skills,
getting involved may be a very valuable experience.
Listen to advice and learn from others, but be mindful of which direction they may
be heading so you can forge your own path if necessary.
Go after the opportunities you want.
Just because you’re new doesn’t mean you have to sit back and wait for opportunities
to come along. If the chance to take on a special project or join a committee arises
and it’s something you’re interested in, go for it! If you don’t see or hear of
these opportunities, express your interest to your own leaders. Let them know you’re
eager to get involved and expand your knowledge/experience.
Even if a call for a leadership opportunity isn’t necessarily the perfect fit, it
could still be worth pursuing. You don’t have to jump on the first one that comes
along, but you should keep in mind that it’s the experience you’re after, not the
fit itself. Speak with your nurse supervisor or manager to see what options might be
If you’re really ambitious, you might even suggest potential opportunities within
your leadership team that don’t yet exist. Not only will this creativity and
enthusiasm impress your managers and co-workers, but it’ll also look fantastic on
Invest in your own development.
Self-development can go a long way toward positioning yourself as a future leader.
And we’re not just talking about professional development, either. If your personal
life isn’t where it should be, it can negatively impact your work, and vice versa.
Be careful about the decisions you make in your personal life and always be aware of
how they may affect your ability to perform on the job. Practice self-discipline,
including the development of good time management skills, more effective
communication, better organization and following through with what you said you’d
do. Mastering these skills will also make you a much better leader at work.
Seek continuing education opportunities.
One of the hallmarks of a good nurse leader is that they never stop learning. Even
if you just finished nursing school, it’s never too soon to start seeking out
additional opportunities to increase your knowledge and skills. In fact, one of the
biggest benefits of being a nurse is being able to learn new things and apply them
right away. It’s kind of like clinicals, but even better.
The type and amount of additional schooling you seek is entirely up to you. If
you’re struggling to pay off your student loans or you’re just feeling burnt out
from recently attending school full time, you might just opt to seek something like
an online medical certification or other ancillary coursework. The key is to make
the effort, not only to advance yourself, but to demonstrate to others your desire
to keep learning.
Join a professional organization.
Another great way to hone your leadership skills while also increasing your
knowledge is to get involved with a professional network.
Joining a professional organization provides the opportunity to develop valuable
peer-to-peer and mentor relationships. It also enables you to stay up-to-date on the
current innovations and issues as they relate to the industry and/or your desired
future position. Lastly, it shows others that you are willing to invest in your
professional development. You can find a comprehensive list of various organizations
and options here.
Seek feedback and be open to constructive criticism.
Encouragement is always nice, but it won’t necessarily push you to become better the
way constructive criticism can. We’re not talking about people who are always
negative or have critical attitudes. We’re talking about feedback that is delivered
with the intent of helping you develop, improve and grow in your career.
If you want to be a better leader, you must be willing to take the good along with
the bad. Don’t just wait for feedback from your colleagues and managers, either. Ask
for it. Be proactive about recognizing areas of yourself that could use some
improvements. Remember – there’s always something to learn.
Don’t be afraid of confrontation.
Last, but certainly not least, leaders simply cannot be afraid of confrontation with
others. In nursing, you will quite frequently work as a part of a team, and
disagreements will inevitably arise. How you handle yourself in those instances can
help to set you apart and position you for future success.
Of course, it’s important to note that strong leaders don’t bark orders or bluntly
call out the weaknesses of others. We’re not suggesting you seek out opportunities
to confront someone, but rather that you don’t run away from them. Instead, focus on
working to reach a positive resolution and understand that doing so may involve some
negotiation and a little concession from time to time. It won’t always be easy, but
the leadership skills you’ll develop in the process will make it well worth it.
For more expert tips, advice and guidance for nurses, EMTs and other health care related positions, subscribe to our blog.
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