Six Tips New Nurses Can Use to Develop Leadership Skills

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC - 04/17/19

When you begin your vocation as a novice nurse, honing your clinical nursing skills is very high on your agenda for initial career success. After being oriented, becoming more proficient, and taking on higher-level skills development, becoming an effective nurse leader may be on your agenda.

The following are six tips new nurses can use develop their leadership skills for the 21st-century healthcare environment.

1. Watch, Listen, and Emulate

It’s been said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. When it comes to becoming a strong nurse leader, you can choose to watch, listen to, and emulate nurse leaders who you feel are effective and successful. You can learn much from observing the habits of leaders you admire, and then carrying those lessons forward into your own career. 

You can also educate yourself by observing and listening to less effective leaders and learning from their mistakes. Whether they’re actually aware of their own foibles is beside the point; in fact, their self-awareness has little to do with this process, unless they’re the type of person who solicits, and listens to, your constructive feedback.

2. Step Up and Be Visible

 In order to create a professional trajectory where you’re moving up the career ladder, it’s recommended that you lean into opportunities for leading, even if you don’t yet have an official title.

Stepping up can come in the form of volunteering to become an EMR super-user so that you can support less proficient colleagues. And when management requests a nurse to sit on the Risk Reduction Advisory Committee or Shared Governance Council, you raise your hand high.

Being visible within your organization is essential; that visibility can potentially bring you and your skills to the attention of individuals who may single you out for grooming as an emerging nurse leader.

3. Be Enthusiastic and Positive

Enthusiasm and positivity are contagious, and an enlightened nurse leader develops these characteristics; and when you follow the advice in #2 above, these ways of moving in the world will serve you well.

Being a positive member of the team who approaches problems with enthusiasm will make you to those who should notice you (#2 again). Your peers and colleagues will be more likely to respect you and follow your lead when you’re free of negativity and complaints.

4. Be an Intrapreneur

While stepping up, being visible, and demonstrating enthusiasm and positivity are key elements in our leadership development hypothesis, other characteristics are equally important.

Intrapreneurs are employees who take “ownership” of their work and responsibilities, assuming responsibility for, and attempting to independently solve, challenges that arise. Intrapreneurs have a propensity for showing up, volunteering, and using their critical thinking skills to make the workplace – or the very work itself –more efficient or effective.

An intrapreneurial nurse team member will notice a problem and bring a potential solution to the awareness of both managers and team members. Intrapreneurs often serve as change agents within their workplaces.

Developing your inner intrapreneur can be a strong indicator of your potential as a leader. If you prove your mettle by being a contributing team member, you may be more likely to be tapped as a candidate for a position of responsibility.

5. Be Curious

Curiosity is a creative way of looking at the world that can give birth to novel ideas, innovations, and solutions. Intrapreneurs are naturally curious: they see a process that isn’t working well and then apply their sharp mind to an innovative solution.

As a nurse who wishes to rise into positions of influence, curiosity will keep your eyes, ears, and mind open. You can demonstrate curiosity organizing the supply closet more effeciently, or you can be curious enough to ask a troubled colleague if they need support. Curiosity opens many doors.

6. Develop Your Emotional and Relational Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) is a popular concept in both the wider culture and the corporate world. Your emotional quotient (EQ) measures your ability to notice, recognize, and respond appropriately to your own emotions and the emotions of others. Relational intelligence is how you use your EI to create more effective relationships. Communication skills are generally much stronger in leaders with a high EQ.

Many leaders clearly see the importance of developing their own EQ, as well as that of their staff. Emotional and relational intelligence can elevate an individual’s leadership abilities and increase loyalty and respect among direct reports. After all, a leader in control of his or her emotions can more readily respond to others in a helpful way, resolve conflict, and navigate the dynamic relationships intrinsic in large organizations.

Leading from the Heart 

In the end, leaders need to be as in touch with their intellect as they are with their emotions. Servant leaders lead from behind, allowing their direct reports and staff room to breathe, innovate, and communicate what they need to be as functional and effective as possible.

When you lead from the heart and not just your head, your emotional and relational intelligence will guide you, along with your curious nature and desire to be of service.

Being an empowered nurse leader is a privilege, and you can knock it out of the park when you develop these and other skills and characteristics that help outstanding leaders like you rise above the pack, champion positive change, and be respected as the leader you truly seek to be.