Career advice

Develop your leadership qualities

The NHS needs strong leadership - but what exactly does this mean? In the first of a three-part series on leadership in nursing, Mandy Day-Calder looks at what makes a good leader.

The NHS needs strong leadership - but what exactly does this mean? In the first of a three-part series on leadership in nursing, Mandy Day-Calder looks at what makes a good leader

leadership part1
Caption Picture: iStock

Nursing has evolved from the days where doctors directed nurses’ every move. As a registered nurse, you now make autonomous decisions and are professionally accountable for your actions and omissions.

You may look to your charge nurse or senior managers for direction and formal leadership, but break down what is required from you – problem-solving, decision-making, negotiation, coordination, prioritising and delegation – and you will see that you take an active leadership role each time you don your uniform.

In recognition of the importance of these qualities the Nursing and Midwifery Council is set to include leadership in the new standards for registered nurses.  

Perhaps the first step to understanding what makes a good leader is to break down the barrier between ‘them and us’ and ask instead: ‘What can I do to inspire others and promote safe, effective and compassionate care?’

As American business leader Ray Kroc once said: ‘The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves.’

Key traits

How you lead will be a combination of what you do and what you say. Unlike some clinical skills there is no set formula to becoming a good or effective leader. There are, however, some key leadership traits which can help you develop your style:

  • Listening Think of a leader who inspires you, and undoubtedly they will be skilled in listening to what is and isn’t being said. This information allows them to decide what the best course of action is without appearing dogmatic. When you are fully listening to a patient or colleague you must set aside what you want or expect to hear.
  • Empowering As well as delegating tasks or responsibilities you want to promote learning so that patients and colleagues can make their own decisions. People learn at different speeds, so be patient.
  • Flexibility You want to be able to adapt how you respond to what’s happening around you. For example, if a patient is showing aggressive behaviour you may need to use a more directive approach than usual. Studying some of the popular leadership theories can help you understand what works best in given situations, but avoid becoming too prescriptive in your style.
  • Clarity Often you will have to make decisions in emotionally charged situations, so it’s important that you remain calm and communicate in a clear and concise manner. Managing your stress levels effectively will help you to think clearly in the heat of the moment.
  • Assertiveness You may need to challenge a colleague’s decision or stand up for your patients’ best interests. You need to have a confident approach but to avoid becoming defensive or passive-aggressive.
  • Integrity If you want to be a respected leader you must consistently demonstrate integrity and fairness. Sometimes you may have to make difficult choices, but you can still communicate authentically.
  • Vulnerability As a nurse you will never stop learning, so it is okay to reach out to your colleagues and show that you don’t know all the answers all the time.

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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