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Nurses as leaders

leadershipComing from an era where women’s sports weren’t an option, I found the “new” team-building concept that was introduced in my last year of nursing school in 1972 very exciting! Learning how to build, manage, work with and lead successful teams to harmonious, well-run days was a welcome relief from memorizing the millions of potential childhood diseases, taking post-op vitals and preparing for the dreaded state boards.

After the first few weeks of leadership classes from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, my first days on the job as an actual team leader were met with skepticism and quickly showed me the challenges of bringing people aboard your team. I was a 20-year-old scheduling those in their 40s, 50s and even 60s, and it did not go over well. Nor did the monthly budget and weekly workshops I created. It was during this time that I learned there are certain plays in one’s game plan that one must learn, know when to use and, most importantly, know how to use to lead their team. These “plays” have enabled me to be a team player and leader in my nursing jobs, my personal life and my current job as a sports consultant. The overall game plan is to work with and lead people to achieve levels they never dreamed they could achieve. To be successful, you have to create harmony, understanding and buy-in. Five “plays” help us get there.

Play #1: Don’t be a travel agent—be a tour guide. Telling your staff, child or coworker what to do may get the job done, but rolling up your sleeves and letting them know you’re all in it together earns their respect. Be the tour guide who walks the walk with them. It’s a great feeling to know that when the going gets rough and you’re in a pressure play, your leader is there with you and understands. Whether in your work, personal life or home life, it’s so much easier to bring people along on the journey rather than tell them what to do.

Play #2: Each of us is crucial to the team’s ability to accomplish its goal. Your role has a purpose, and if you’re not sure of your role’s contribution to the overall goal, ask. It’s easier to carry out the play when you understand it. How often do you see teams get back into a huddle to go over the game plan? It’s all part of the overall goal to create momentum and keep the ball moving forward.

Play #3: There may not be an “I” in team, but there are individuals. That’s what makes you unique! You don’t sacrifice who you are for the team; you merely learn to find common ground to make it work.

Play #4: Praise in public; punish in private.
How quickly I learned this as my kids were growing up! No one likes to be “called out” during the game, yet it happens all too often. How often do you praise good work in front of your peers? Have you ever asked your team what they find great about each other? It’s a wonderful way to have people leaving a meeting feeling good about themselves and the group they work with. Positive motivation goes a long way in helping create harmony in your team. :)

Play #5: Pass the ball. You’re only as good as the people around you. Don’t be afraid to let others handle the ball at times. Delegate. Give them a feeling of leadership and the chance to shine. It makes you all the stronger.

Whether coach, captain or player, you all have an important role to play and need to learn the best way to play together. Envision yourselves as being part of an exciting major league team and bring a different game plan to the table. Watch how exciting the results can be!

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Kathy Burrows

Kathy Burrows, RN, went from a hospital setting to being an instructor; upon leaving nursing, she applied the skills she learned in nursing school to her sports consulting career. She is the owner of SOS Consulting and is available for speaking engagements.

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6 Responses to Nurses as leaders

  1. I think following the “leadership” theme of the article, it is the leader’s responsibility to make give everyone a role, set goals for each person and the team as a whole because then you are making each person responsible for the end result. People will not get lost in translation and slide through the cracks if they have a role on the team.

  2. Agreed 100%- having worked under 2 different managers of two very different styles in nursing, I have much more respect for and am more apt to work harder for the manager that performs patient interaction right next to me. I think this goes for any job, like she says. Also, “Passing the Ball” is very important in nursing as well, nobody will ever succeed on their own in this profession. You must rely on delegating, even in the leadership role. Fellow nurses can work off each other’s strengths for the betterment of the patient.

  3. These are great mantras of leadership that work for any member of a medical team, including physicians. Having the blessing and benefit of knowing the author for 10 years, I have witnessed her constant and keen ability to practice what she preaches. Excellent job, Kathy!
    –Dr. Carol Cunningham
    State Medical Director
    Ohio Department of Public Safety, Division of EMS

  4. Sean Dent Scrubs Blogger

    Practice what you preach and equality in accountability were always high on my list. Walking the walk and being present defined a good manager for me. I never expected them to get their hands dirty (although it helped).. but I did expect them to be around seeing how the paces of the day played out.
    Great list!

  5. This is great advice. I think it is also important to stay in practice of your profession as much as you can too, so that you can always relate to your staffs problems.

  6. Neva LaVia Borowski

    I like working with my team. Although sometimes i need to break away to accomplish my managerial tasks as well. Patient care comes first.