With the profound changes occurring in healthcare and nursing, transformational nurse leadership is needed now more than ever. This type of leadership focuses on inspiring and motivating your team members to achieve their full potential and exceed their own expectations. Often, leaders who adopt a transformational approach often create a vision for the future, encouraging creativity and innovation, while also fostering a positive and inclusive organizational culture.
However, the current practice of transformational leadership differs little from business-borrowed approaches, advocating for an individual leader to lead the way, direct work, and own outcomes. In this context, transformational nurse leadership often becomes an inspirational exercise overlaid on top of outdated command and control methodology. Not surprisingly, the promise of employee engagement dissolves into disillusionment.
Fostering Passion Through Effective Nurse Leadership
To legitimately address the challenges in healthcare and nursing, how can we lead in a way that fosters passionate and engaged nursing teams, allowing them to take ownership and find delight in their practice?
- Inspire a contemporary vision. What descriptions of transformational leadership get right is the role of the leader in inspiring people to articulate and envision a new future in the current realities of the world. One nurse leader generated a conversation with novice nurses in her health system about the reality that, in their career, about 1/3rd to 1/2 of the nurses on any given shift will not be core to the unit. She encouraged the team to transform their work to one where they are leaders, holding the quality standards and expectations as other nurses “floated” in and out of their unit. They are reimagining their practice as coordinators of the team, creating a culture of continuous precepting, mentoring, and learning from others. The spirit is one of leadership, ownership, and innovation.
- Develop capabilities. We say that every nurse is a leader but then rely on the manager to make every critical decision. Leaders transform by developing the capabilities of their team to manage in an ever-evolving environment. This may seem challenging with novice staff, but most novice nurses developed skills of juggling priorities, living with uncertainty, and learning new things through nursing school. Asking, “What do you think would be best to do and what are the pros and cons of that approach” will help develop the judgment of clinical nurses. Nurse managers need to be taught to develop their team, not to give all of the answers to their team. A metric for nurse manager success should not be how many problems they solve but how many people they coach. What would happen if nurse managers were given a goal of reducing the number of texts they get in a day?
- Manage the mood, tone, and energy of the environment. In these chaotic and challenging times, with so much uncertainty, it’s easy to become overwhelmed or discouraged. Transformational leaders care for their own well-being first so they can calmly respond to complexity. They are emotionally intelligent, able to recognize the mood of the team, and can de-escalate and restore safety and trust when someone is feeling disrespected or threatened. They help their team to navigate through difficulties, coaching individual nurses to address current challenges by recognizing and applying coping strategies that have worked for them in the past. Most importantly, they recognize that no amount of technology will fill the heart and humanness in healthcare.
- Let go of control. I’ve often said that if you want professional nurses, treat nurses like professionals. That also means that if you want people to have a culture of ownership, give them ownership. When the manager makes all of the decisions, ownership will never occur. This requires the leader to lead through coaching, and guiding insights through questions rather than always providing solutions. Leading through questions and not solutions will tap into innovative approaches that meet real-world needs. And will build nurse leaders that can respond to emerging changes. Transformational nurse leaders recognize that clinical practice belongs to clinical nurses and support a strong professional governance structure with systematic processes for identifying barriers and opportunities to deliver great care, rapidly resolving things that can be addressed on the unit level, and bringing more complex issues to the hospital councils.
The work environment and workload of three years ago is not today’s work environment or workload and yesterday’s nurse is not today’s nurse. In these tumultuous times, we have a chance to recreate our practice and tap into the passion that brought us to the profession, the intelligence of the team, and the promise of creating a better healthcare system for ourselves and our patients.
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Marla J. Weston, PhD, RN, FAAN, is a registered nurse and former CEO of the American Nurses Association. Currently, she serves as the senior advisor for Practicing Excellence’s Nursing Experience Project (NEP), an app-based skill-building solution created by nurses, for nurses.