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Managing Your Career
4 Steps to Leadership
Become a nurse who is confident and in charge.

The thought of being a leader when you first become an RN may be unimaginable. But leadership is learned, even if at first you don't feel all that confident.

Choose Your Leadership Style
You can learn a lot about the leader you want to become by watching how people work. In your unit, there are positive and negative leaders. Positive leaders are those who are patient advocates, who follow safe protocols, and who work as a team player. Then there are negative leaders. They complain about the manager every time they're in the break room—never confronting an issue head-on but instead stirring things up. Take a look at who is most effective, and whom you respect. You have a choice about which leader to follow, and whom you will become.

Identify What's Lacking
In developing leadership skills, the first question a new nurse needs to address is "What do I need to learn the most about?" Then figure out who can help you. You may need to learn how to demand respect from doctors; you may need to develop your ability to give direction to Patient Care Technicians (PCTs); or, you may need to hone your career and professional expertise. Look for others who are competent in those areas, identify them as some of your mentors and pose direct scenarios that they can help you work through.

Take on a Challenge
With the help of these mentors, new nurses can begin to identify and address their leadership growth areas. But a good mentor will not offer packaged advice and tell you what to do. It needs to be a partnership, in which a mentor challenges you and you respond. A mentor, for instance, might urge you to pursue learning opportunities within the hospital, join a task force, or participate in a group discussion on policies. Through participation in these activities, you will begin to develop your voice and competency.

Assess Your Growth
To gauge if you are developing as a leader, don't be afraid to ask your manager or other seasoned nurses, "What am I doing well?" Your confidence will climb as others affirm your strengths. Embrace critiques with a similar openness. Even if painful to hear at first, use the criticism to help you identify areas where you can challenge yourself. And weekly you need to take time to reflect on what you are learning and what you've done right. By focusing on the positives, you gain the assurance of a seasoned nurse—and are on your way to becoming a true leader.

Rose Hollister is principal of Hollister Consulting (, teaches strategic change at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and is a RealityRN senior advisory board member.

Read more Managing Your Career articles

One Response to “4 Steps to Leadership”

  1. LizFeelsGood Says:

    I was a manager in another industry for many years before starting again at the bottom of the ladder as a student nurse.

    I found that over the years the most valuable lessons I actually learnt were from the bad managers as I watched them and resolved to never do the things which made me lose respect for them as managers.

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