Being a nurse leader, even without the title

By | 2015-10-19T14:39:25-04:00 October 13th, 2015|1 Comment

Every profession has members who rise into leadership, and effective leaders can make all the difference. This cannot be more true of healthcare and nursing, arenas that necessitate highly collaborative teams.

Leadership can be taught, but it’s also intuitive, and some nurses have this gift. What makes a particular nurse embody the characteristics of true leadership, even when he or she has no official title?

Tuning in

A nurse who cultivates deep awareness of both self and others demonstrates a powerful form of leadership. This type of nurse is tuned in,  alert for others in distress, and leads to collaborate in ways that decrease such distress.

This nurse tunes into both individuals and the collective, leading by example while leaning into situations to positively impact the whole. The shadow for this type of consciousness is hypervigilance and controlling behavior, which a highly developed self-awareness can preclude.

Leadership in action

Some nurses are skilled at taking the reins, even when not in official positions of leadership. These nurses see problems, bring them to the team’s attention and proactively seek ways to alleviate the problem.

We’ve likely all known nurses who respond to problems with a statement like, “It’s been that way a while; it’s not my responsibility to fix.” This common attitude can breed a culture of intellectual laziness and disregard for the bigger picture.

Proactive, thoughtful nurses see problems and involve others in manifesting solutions that truly benefit everyone. This is leadership in action.

Speaking up

Some nurses demonstrate leadership by using their voices. This may involve naming a problem, such as noticing a bully on the unit, or otherwise identifying something that’s amiss.

Our silence can serve as complicity, such as not speaking up or taking action in response to a bully. The empowered nurse who speaks the truth overcomes his or her fear by taking a calculated risk and naming what needs to be named.

Speaking up gives voice to those who are too frightened to speak for themselves. This type of nurse leadership can empower others to also speak out, and can be a powerful way to lead by example.

Conscientious collectivism

Natural nurse leaders intuitively lead the way, sometimes dragging their official leaders with them. We all contain the seeds of leadership, but some more readily demonstrate those characteristics.

Those nurses who skillfully and naturally lead do so from an ability to see beyond themselves. These nurses consider the good of the whole, align their own actions with that ideal and proactively seek change.

Nurses can lead the way in any workplace situation. Tune in, see the 10,000-foot view, consider the good of the whole, use your voice and lead from a balance of intuition, savvy critical thinking and conscientious collectivism.

Your turn

How do you lead in your daily work? Share your experiences with us.


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About the Author:

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC
Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the award-winning blog, Digital Doorway. A widely published writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.”

One Comment

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    Greg Mercer MSN November 2, 2015 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this perspective, Keith! Informal power structures have long been a professional interest of mine: managers tend to be too distant and uninvolved to solve many of the problems that arise, and informal apporaches can fill the gaps. As you note, with every act, with every choice we make, we can resolve problems or add to them, and many of us rely on habits more than thought, and reactions more than thoughtful decisions. It holds many nurses back, and we could all do better.

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