I never knew how important a supervisor could be until I got a bad one.
I’d lucked out through many jobs with managers who had my best interests at heart. And then I wound up with one who couldn’t care less about me, my career or quality care. She just counted beans. I couldn’t wait to leave.
Hence my admonition:
You should never take a job without interviewing your immediate supervisor. Why? Because conventional wisdom has always insisted that nurses will stay in a bad job with a good manager, and not stay in a good job with a bad manager.
But what does that mean?
For me, a bad supervisor was a “mama” manager who viewed staff as children who were potentially sneaky, disobedient and out to game the system in their favor. On the upside of that management style, you could work all day and not have to make a meaningful decision on your own. Instead mama (or papa) manager would give you clear directions and request little input — that is, make decisions for you all day long. And some employees like that. I found, as my career progressed, that I wanted to work with a boss who valued my input as a professional, championed my decisions and supported me even after I had been wrong. The boss who became my mentor, Golden Bethune, once boasted that she “gave Bob enough rope to hang himself,” but I knew she’d never kick the stool out from under me. She would help me grow.
A bad manager can chase nurses away
Evidence supports the notion that a good manager can be a deciding factor for a nurse considering leaving a job. For example, a 2013 Australian study found managers’ engagement, respect and trust were related to staff retention. Supervisors who were willing to defend their staff and maintain a consistent quality relationship with their nurses would be likely to improve retention. Studies also show staff tend to resign because of their manager, not the organization.
Other literature has consistently discovered that managers with more consultative and/or participative styles of management are apt to retain nurses longer. No wonder that for years the American Nurses Credentialing Center Magnet Recognition program has advocated for transformational leadership in which managers give their staff wings to fly and explore a work environment that is a playground of inquiry, curiosity and professional development.
Here are some questions to ask your prospective supervisor:
• Could you describe your ideal employee?
• What are your expectations of nurses as employees?
• What do you expect of your staff as professional nurses?
• How do you describe teamwork on your unit?
• How often do you hold staff meetings?
• What are your qualities as a manager that you are most proud of?
• How would you describe your leadership style?
• What do you think about shared governance?
• Does the organization have a shared governance program, and if so, how do you participate?
If you’re considering continuing your formal education, here’s something you might evaluate when considering your new working partner. What formal credentials does this person hold? A professional’s degrees and certifications might tell you how much that person really values formal education and the sometimes arduous trek it takes to achieve it.
I hope your future manager will interview well and give an honest reflection of her or his managerial profile. But be aware that most everyone has a story to tell of having worked for a “bad” manager. If you have a bad manager now, maybe these tips can help you to dodge another.
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