Career advice

When you think you’re a good organiser, but they think you’re just plain bossy

Steps you can take to ensure nurse colleagues don’t misread your good intentions

Steps you can take to ensure nurse colleagues don’t misread your good intentions

Picture: Alamy

I vividly remember when my organisational skills were first highlighted to me. I was hanging out washing and a friend mentioned how organised I always was.

Up until that point I hadn’t really thought about it, but I had to agree – I like things to be in order.

Being highly organised is usually seen as a good trait, so secretly I was quite pleased. But as I soon came to realise, this isn’t always the case.

When your strength becomes a weakness

Many years ago, I worked as a staff nurse on a busy haematology ward. As with most wards, mornings were somewhat chaotic, but there is one particular morning I will never forget.

A more junior nurse was in charge, and part of the role involved co-ordinating teams for the day. No decisions were being made about which bays we were all being allocated to, so being the organised soul that I was, I took control and divvied up the staff on duty.

‘With hindsight and some extra maturity, I can see there were more positive and empowering ways I could have dealt with the situation’

My actions certainly stopped the dithering and helped us all get on with that morning’s work. But I later found out that I had really upset the junior nurse, whose position, in my haste to get on with things, I had in fact ignored.

I was initially shocked I had caused so much distress. But when I stopped and reflected on my behaviour, I realised I hadn’t given any thought to the other nurse’s feelings. My actions left her feeling undermined, and she was understandably nervous about making decisions.

With hindsight and some extra maturity, I can see there were more positive and empowering ways I could have dealt with the situation. But this experience was a real learning curve for me. ‘Getting the job done’ regardless of the expense to others is not an acceptable approach.

Although I am not proud of this, I am sharing it with you as a good example of how even seemingly positive behaviours can be used in a negative way or misinterpreted by others.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Are you harder on or more defensive with some colleagues than others? If so, can you identify what is behind this?
  • How can you manage your stress and emotions in a more positive way?
  • How could you have dealt with the situation in a more positive way?
  • What support do you need to ensure this doesn’t happen again?


Since my time on the haematology ward, I have learned how to adapt the way I behave according to the situation and the needs of the people I am with.

For example, I used to run a jogging group and the feedback I received was that my members needed me to tell them where to run and for how long. One lady even said: ‘I’ve spent all day making decisions, don’t make me do it here.’

Staying on the right side of the line

Yet this same approach could easily be interpreted as bossy elsewhere. The skill, which in all honesty involves life-long learning, lies in knowing where the line is and recognising if you are approaching it.

Given the constant pressures of nursing, it’s a good idea to stop regularly and reflect on how you are behaving and communicating with colleagues. For example, ask yourself: ‘Am I taking my stress out on anyone else or am I acting in way that could be undermining or offensive to someone?’

As former hospital chief executive Kate Grimes says: ‘When under pressure, I can become extremely task-focused and appear uncaring towards others.’

As my experience shows, there may be times when your behaviour crosses the line. If this happens, it’s time to step back and look at things from a wider perspective. As well as addressing the issue with the other person or people involved, it’s important for you to understand what caused you to react the way you did and identify ways to change your practice.

    Mandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach and former nurse

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