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5 positive traits of a high-caliber nurse leader

Nurse leaders are crucial to the health of any unit, agency or facility, and we’ve all likely heard or experienced horror stories of nurse managers from Hades.

Still, there are stellar nurse leaders in the healthcare ecosystem, and there are certain ubiquitous traits in those leaders who stand above the rest. Here are five traits that can readily identify a progressive nurse leader who’s at the top of his or her game:

Highly-developed communication skills

There’s a saying that we have two ears and only one mouth for a reason. A stellar nurse leader spends a great deal of time listening to what the nurses on the ground have to say. He or she will actively solicit information, listen deeply and then use that data as part of an ongoing assessment of the organization.
As a thoughtful, conscientious leader, individuals of this caliber use deep listening as a skillful assessment tool, and then consciously employ language that avoids shame and blame. Thus, a style of communication is employed that is an example to all in its fairness and kindness.

Fairness in action

A high-caliber leader may indeed make difficult decisions, and he or she does so with a conscientious sense of equanimity. Decisions aren’t made from a place of reactivity; rather, they are arrived at through the aforementioned process of deep listening and careful deliberation.
Not every decision may seem fair to every team member, but necessary actions are explained using empathic acknowledgement of the potential discomfort that some may feel regarding the outcome. Even so, many team members still may admit the leader is thoughtful and fair, despite disagreement with the overarching decision.


In order to be an effective leader, the nurse manager demonstrates an affinity for increased self-knowledge. This may conjure images of the nurse Buddha staring at his navel, but it actually implies the nurse manager’s willingness to critically review his or her behavior style, openly admit shortcomings and errors in judgment, and continue to learn and grow in this position of power and influence.

Flexibility is key

The progressive nurse leader has a flexible nature, avoiding stances and reactions that are inflexible or carved in stone. This type of nurse leader uses deep listening, self-knowledge and fairness as cornerstones of a flexible management style.

Discipline without shame

Steeped in fairness and flexibility, the strong nurse leader disciplines without shame. Team members may commit errors, but the thoughtful nurse leader never stoops to shame as a means of correction.

To lead into the future, the powerful, progressive 21st-century nurse leader is fair and flexible, using deep listening and excellent communication skills to move the nursing team forward. He or she is always willing to admit mistakes, and leads by example in every aspect of his or her leadership style.

Your turn

Please share the best characteristics you notice in your favorite nurse leaders.

Leave a comment or send an email to [email protected]

By | 2015-10-16T15:08:12-04:00 October 18th, 2015|Categories: Nursing Careers and Jobs|2 Comments
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. Keith is co-host of, a popular nursing podcast, and also hosts The Nurse Keith Show, his own podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. A widely published writer, Keith is the author of “Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century.” He brings a plethora of experience as a nursing thought leader, holistic career coach, writer and nurse entrepreneur.


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    Salvador Enriquez October 19, 2015 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    I agree that listening is a must. What is not mentioned is Shared Governance – allowing the Nursing Staff to work through issues and come up with the solutions. No Nurse Leader should ever think that they have all of the answers, get the front line staff to the decision table and let them know that their opinion is highly valued. Also, being fair is a must but not enough – being fair and consistent is key.

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    Arabul nisa December 5, 2018 at 4:21 am - Reply

    So true … Highly developed communication skills r very important .its one of the best characteristic feature of a competent nursing officer .

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