6 Traits of Nurse Managers who are Transformational Leaders

In a high-stress healthcare environment, Nurse Managers have a difficult task! It’s up to them to evaluate performance, mentor, develop staff, ensure that nurses are motivated, and be a voice of nursing to the organization. So when you’re evaluating a candidate for a Nurse Manager position, an important question to consider is: Is she/he a transformational leader?

Transformational leaders inspire their staff through encouraging language and behavior. They lead by example instead of leading from the background. They have a broad range of leadership skills, and these are the 6 traits that set them apart.

1. Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in one’s self and others, and to use that self-awareness to manage behavior and navigate complex social situations. This leads to personal decisions which drive positive results.

Often when we describe a great leader, we describe that leader in terms of tangibles such as quantitative results and outcomes. But in nursing, the intangibles are even more important. A Nurse Manager candidate might have 30 years of experience and great clinical competence. But that doesn’t mean she knows how to manage an entire unit, keep people motivated, and exercise positive decision making. For example, she might struggle with being in charge of nurses who used to be her peers. A leader with emotional intelligence, however, would be able to evaluate those relationships and adjust accordingly. Emotional intelligence is an intangible quality that allows a Nurse Manager to be a transformational leader.

2. Self Awareness to Inform Self-Management
Self-awareness allows a leader to be conscious of her strengths and weakness; self-management allows her to put that self-awareness to good use. If a leader is self-aware, she will know what drives her and will keep obstacles from prohibiting success. But self-awareness is just the first step. Once a leader is aware of her strengths and weaknesses, she can manage them in a real-life decision process. Leaders can put strengths to good use and find ways to work around or improve weaknesses, with understanding of how decisions will impact the rest of the unit.

3. Social Competence and Attentive Listening
To be a socially-competent Nurse Manager is to be an attentive listener. Staff will not feel motivated to share new ideas for improvement if they don’t think anyone is listening. If Nurse Managers show nurses they are being heard, those nurses will be more innovative, and likely to speak up when they see areas for improvement. Socially competent leaders who are good listeners can deal with difficult issues head on, seek mutual understanding, and welcome sharing of information fully. Leaders with these competencies foster open communication and stay receptive to bad news as well as good.

4. Communication Skills
A Nurse Manager needs to be able to open up her decision-making process and listen to what her unit is saying, so that everyone can work toward a common goal.

Besides just being open and transparent in communication, Nurse Managers should also consider how they deliver information. Nurses and Nurse Managers are often tasked with delivering bad news, and as a Nurse Manager, communicating bad news to staff without ruining morale is a way to teach by example. For instance, if early in a shift a Nurse Manager delivers bad news effectively to her unit, individual nurses can absorb and implement pieces of what she did well, when later delivering bad news patients. If a leader can effectively communicate information, the leader’s staff will learn to do the same.

5. Enthusiasm and Positivity
One bad apple spoils the bunch. If that bad apple is the leader it can ruin a team. Nurse Managers set the standard for everyone working under them and in a high-stress hospital environment, it is especially important for nurse managers to remain positive and motivated.

For instance, if a Nurse Manager spends an entire shift complaining about how tired and stressed she is, other nurses will be thinking about how tired and stressed they are. Everyone will be less engaged and less productive. On the other hand, if a Nurse Manager is able to remain positive and stay focused, it will allow the rest of her unit to do the same. It’s up to the leader to stay positive, engaged and encourage everyone else.

6. Transformational, not Transactional!
Transactional leadership is a one-sided leadership style that relies on external motivators and rewards. This leadership style is not effective in nursing, where employees are already externally motivated by the desire to help people. A transformational Nurse Manager embodies attributes such as charisma and vision, and employ behaviors such as:
• Mutual problem solving and attending to individual needs of staff members, to literally “transform” individuals and organizations
• Raising followers consciousness about the importance of unit goals
• Getting followers to transcend self-interests for the team

Transformational leadership is one of the most effective ways to increase nurse job satisfaction. When a Nurse Manager displays these qualities, she promotes a positive work environment which leads to engaged and driven nurses. When nurses are engaged, they are better equipped to provide patients with quality care.

To learn more, read Emotional Intelligence and Transformational Leadership in Nurse Managers. Lauraine Spano-Szekely, DNP, MBA, BSN, RN; Mary Quinn Griffin, RN, FAAN; Joanne Clavelle, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE; Joyce J. Fitzpatrick PhD, RN, FAAN; Journal of Nursing Administration, February 2016