Nurses are the lifeblood of all medical institutions, whether they are large private or public hospitals, small clinics, or humble practices in rural areas. The success of these facilities directly correlates to the leadership skills of the dedicated nursing staff.
The beauty of a well-made Swiss watch lies not in what the eye can see but in the sophistication of the inner mechanisms. Similarly, the quality of care that patients receive is due to the inner workings of the nursing staff. For healthcare organizations to be successful, nurse leaders need to work effectively. They must be effective not only in terms of the bedside but also as trailblazers who drive policy development. Nursing leaders need to take initiative when it comes to improving the quality of patient care because they are the ones who will shape the future of healthcare systems.
Daily advancements in healthcare mean that nursing leaders must constantly change, adapt, and adjust. As frontline representatives in healthcare facilities, they continuously drive improvement. They must strive to develop their leadership skills to carry these enormous responsibilities.
Two advanced educational paths are available to further a career in nursing leadership: the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Different areas of the nursing field are emphasized in each degree and lead to specialized career paths. Both degrees, however, equip nurses with the knowledge, skills, and competencies needed to help shape the future of healthcare.
The evolution of nursing leadership
Patient care is becoming more complex as healthcare advances. Gone are the days when nurses simply assisted doctors, took notes, and handed over instruments. What does this mean for nursing leadership? It means that nurses must now become experts in patient care and take on their own unique roles within the healthcare industry. Nursing has evolved into a serious profession, and nurses now have the added responsibility of making decisions when it comes to the care of their patients—decisions that will directly affect the well-being of those patients.
In addition to the role of bedside care, nursing leadership also now includes administrative tasks. Nurses are no longer focused solely on direct patient care but are pivotal in shaping healthcare policies and medical research. Nurses are the soldiers on the ground who have first-hand knowledge and experience regarding new policies and how they will affect day-to-day patient care. They are also instrumental in monitoring health trends. Their knowledge and experience can then be relayed to further advance healthcare systems and research, benefiting the patient. Greater emphasis on teamwork skills is now being put on nursing leaders to ensure successful collaboration.
Mentorship and leadership development programs currently play a major role in nursing. To meet the needs of their profession and the leadership roles they fill, nurses must focus on developing necessary skills and competencies. Nursing leaders can make a significant impact in the healthcare industry and shape the profession for generations to come.
Different leadership styles
There are many different styles of leadership, and what works for one may not work for all. Nursing leaders must be able to examine their surroundings, assess the people with whom they work, and adjust their leadership style accordingly. Effective nursing leaders implement leadership styles that not only lead a strong team but have positive outcomes on patient care.
Several different leadership styles may be used in nursing:
- Democratic leadership
Democratic leadership involves team members in decision-making. Democratic nursing leaders place high value on the opinions and ideas of their team members and encourage teamwork and collaboration.
- Autocratic leadership
Autocratic leaders prefer to make their own decisions and may not take the opinions or input of team members into consideration. Although this leadership style may seem ineffective due to a lack of teamwork and inclusivity, emergency situations often require it. When nursing leaders are faced with a crisis, quick and decisive action is often necessary,
- Transformational leadership
The crux of transformational leadership is to motivate and inspire your nurse practitioners. Transformational leaders have exceptional people skills and can build strong relationships with their team members. Nursing leaders who adopt this leadership style help their team members grow and develop.
- Transactional leadership
Nursing leaders who use a transactional leadership style set clear goals and expectations for their team members and reward them based on their performance. This leadership style motivates team members to complete tasks in the most efficient way possible and helps maintain order within a unit.
- Servant leadership
Some nurse leaders believe that the best way to help their team members grow and develop is by putting their needs first. Servant leadership helps team members achieve their goals through the support of their nursing leaders and positive work environments.
- Laissez-faire leadership
With staff that are more experienced and self-motivated, the laissez-faire leadership style is very effective. In using this style, nursing leaders take a more hands-off approach and give team members freedom to make decisions.
Essential skills for nursing leaders
For nursing leaders to be effective in the healthcare industry, certain skills must be acquired and continuously improved upon. These skills enable nursing leaders to reach their full potential and help them assist their team members in achieving their goals.
Communication and relationship-building skills
Open channels of communication are very important in all professions. Positive and supportive work environments are built on the trust and respect that team members have for each other, as well as the trust and respect of their nursing leaders. Nursing leaders must be able to listen attentively, evaluate the feedback of team members, and effect change.
Critical thinking and problem-solving abilities
Nursing leaders will be faced with many obstacles—challenges with team members, patient care, and policy issues. When faced with a problem, effective nursing leaders will be able to analyze situations, gather information, and make decisions.
As a nurse leader, you will inevitably have to deal with the emotions of your team members. Managing these emotions and providing support are qualities of effective leaders. These issues can sometimes lead to life-and-death situations; nurse leaders must be emotionally intelligent to empathize with the involved parties and resolve the issues.
The ability to move past difficult situations and remain positive after disappointments is crucial for nursing leaders. It is inspiring and motivating to see leaders who are resilient in the face of challenges.
Decision-making and strategic planning
Nursing leaders are responsible for the well-being of their patients and the functioning of their units. They need to make decisions that will have positive impacts. To do so, they need to look at the pros and cons of situations, hypothesize possible outcomes, and choose the best courses of action. This involves a high level of strategic planning, as well as the ability to think ahead and closely examine situations.
Adaptability and change management
With constant advances in technology, the healthcare landscape changes day by day. At times, the changes are drastic. Effective nursing leaders take these changes in stride and manage their teams with consistency. Nursing leaders also need to be adaptable by remaining open to new ideas, changing their ways, and transitioning to new healthcare policies and procedures.
Strategies for developing effective nursing leaders
Although some people may have natural skills that will assist them in their journey in becoming nursing leaders, the industry must still invest in their development. Strategies can be implemented to nurture the development of tomorrow’s nursing leaders.
- Formal leadership development
Formal leadership development programs are structured programs that provide nurses with the necessary resources to develop their skills. They offer workshops, courses, and mentorship opportunities to enhance the skills of nursing leaders. These programs effectively prepare nurses to fill the leadership roles in which they are most needed.
- Mentorship and coaching
The primary idea in mentorship and coaching is to “pay it forward.” Nurses in leadership positions are given the opportunity to train and guide the leaders of the future. They use their knowledge and experiences to prepare younger generations for their roles as leaders. Being a leadership coach focuses on providing feedback and guidance to team members and encouraging them in their journey.
- Continuing education and professional growth
As previously stated, the healthcare industry is always changing, as are the skills that nursing leaders need to possess. Professional growth is vital to be an effective nursing leader. The best leaders stay current with the latest advances in nursing, attend conferences, and engage in professional organizations. By participating in continuing education and professional growth, nurses can grow as leaders.
- Promoting diversity and inclusion
It is important for nursing leaders to understand that team members come from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. These differences often contribute to furthering research and policy development. It is necessary, therefore, to create an environment that respects and values individual differences and creates a sense of inclusion.
- Fostering a culture of leadership
To shape effective leaders, the healthcare industry needs to create environments that encourage leadership and the development of leadership skills. Nurses need to be supported in their journey towards developing themselves as leaders on both personal and professional levels. By empowering nurses to act as leaders and rewarding them for excellent performance, the healthcare industry provides nurses with the opportunity to grow.
Becoming a nurse leader
If you are interested in advancing your nursing career and becoming a nurse leader, you need to decide the best path to take to achieve your goals. Researching a DNP vs. PhD will help you determine what will be the best fit for you in terms of career advancement. Each degree focuses on different types of courses that can lead to different career paths.
Doctor of nursing practice
The Doctor of Nursing (DNP) degree places emphasis on clinical practice. It focuses on translating research into patient care to create positive outcomes. With a DNP degree, nurses can pursue leadership roles in healthcare organizations and clinics, leading nursing teams and healthcare policy. An online DNP program, such as the one at Spring Arbor University, is a highly flexible way to continue a nurse’s learning alongside work and other commitments. To obtain the degree, nurses will be expected to complete a significant number of clinical practice hours to develop and strengthen their practice skills.
Doctor of philosophy
The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree focuses on shaping the nurse scientists of the future. It prepares nurses and researchers on how to contribute to the advancement of nursing knowledge through research. A strong emphasis is placed on research methods and the generation of new knowledge that will ultimately contribute to the scientific basis of nursing. With its strong focus on research, there may be little to no clinical hours required to complete this degree.
Both degrees lead to specialized career paths in the nursing field. Those who hold a DNP degree primarily work in clinical practice and administration for healthcare organizations. In contrast, individuals who hold a PhD are typically employed at research institutions and have careers in academia.
Nursing leadership plays a massive role in driving positive change in healthcare. These positive changes lead to improving patient care outcomes and strengthening the impact of effective healthcare systems. Healthcare organizations and the healthcare industry need to make conscious efforts to develop and train nursing leaders and provide them with opportunities to grow both professionally and personally. Nurse leaders are the future of the healthcare industry and will play a large role in upcoming healthcare policies and their effectiveness.