Career advice

Facing the challenges of leadership

In the middle of a busy shift you may find the demands of leadership overwhelming. In the second of our three-part series on leadership, Mandy Day-Calder advises how to cope.

In the middle of a busy shift you may find the demands of leadership overwhelming. In the second of our three-part series on leadership, Mandy Day-Calder advises how to cope

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Emotional resilience will help you manage yourself and others. Picture: iStock

In the middle of a busy shift when patients or colleagues are looking to you for direction, you may find the demands of leadership overwhelming.

The challenges you face as a nurse leader will either be to do with other people, resources and the situation (external) or how you react, what you believe and how you feel about yourself (internal).

External challenges

Every day you will be faced with demanding situations that arise from events outside your control. Some of these will be short-lived, such as adapting to new policies or procedures, while others are ongoing, such as a lack of staff or beds.

Your challenge as a leader is how you respond to these in a manner that is decisive, fair and empowering to staff and patients. Here are some tips:

  • Be proactive. As a nurse, you will be skilled at shifting work priorities depending on what’s happening around you. If you are a driver, think of how you hold your attention on what you are doing as well as scanning the road in front of you. Similarly, when you are leading, you need to adapt this approach so that you are also able to think one step ahead.
  • Be consistent. It’s hard to respect someone who is fickle in their approach, so though your actions may differ depending on the situation make sure you are consistent with messages and treat everyone equally.
  • Be collaborative. You have a professional duty to work collaboratively, so put trust in your colleagues – delegate when necessary, involve others in decision making and make sure you seek support.
  • Breathe. Leading others involves a fine balance between reactive and strategic decision making. When faced with heated or emotive encounters remember to take a few deep breaths before making what could be an impulsive decision.

Internal challenges

Taking an active lead in any situation on the ward offers you the chance to demonstrate your strengths and skills. Conversely, it also puts you in a vulnerable position where your actions and behaviours can be criticised, or even ignored by other nurses, patients and their relatives.

It’s unlikely that you will learn how to be an effective leader overnight. However, if you take time to reflect on how you react when faced with challenging encounters you will start to uncover your own limitations, doubts and insecurities. For example, do you find it hard to delegate or switch off? Do you struggle to make yourself heard or constantly worry that no one respects you?

Pay attention to times when you absorb feelings from others – such as anger or frustration – or feel responsible for everything around you. Instead of beating yourself up for being a ‘bad nurse’ look at what would help you feel more assertive or self-confident.

Try to remember that though you can’t always change what is happening, you can change how you respond to it. Developing emotional resilience will help you manage both yourself and those around you.


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

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