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Lessons in Leadership from Outstanding Nurses

 |  By  
   November 09, 2010

In a few days, the winners of HCPro's 2010 Nursing Image Awards will be announced. Out of hundreds of nominees, two nurses will be selected as the embodiment of leadership and clinical excellence.

I have had the very great privilege of again serving as one of the judges and I have spent the last few weeks reading through hundreds of nomination essays. Next week, we will begin celebrating the winners. This week, I'm taking time to think about the hundreds that were nominated.

The leadership category is populated by nominations for chief nursing officers and nurse executives at organizations across the country. The category honors a nursing leader who embodies a positive image of nursing through his or her leadership excellence and who has served as an inspiring leader, mentor, and role model to nurses as they strive to portray an image of professionalism in all that they do, whether by overcoming significant challenges, spearheading change, or inspiring teamwork that resulted in achievement of operational goals/objectives.

As I sifted through the essays, it struck me that nurse leaders around the country are dealing with similar challenges and facing common problems. Essay after essay referenced an organization's difficult year—or even, several difficult years—and credited the nominee with leading the organization through the experience and preparing for a better future.

Many nominators mentioned employee dissatisfactions such as layoffs, stagnant wages, hiring freezes, and stretched-too-thin resources, and credited their leader for making the best of a bad situation and keeping the needs of patients at the forefront. Common qualities emerged, including that these leaders are:

  • Authentic leaders—they have high ethics and values, which they practice in their leadership
  • Honest—they let employees know what's really going on and are open about situations, whether good or bad
  • Communicators—their communication skills are top notch and they require open and honest communication from their staff
  • Visionary—they have a plan for the future, they know what to do, and they know how to get their

These leaders inspire tremendous loyalty in their staff. One nominator wrote, "Her transformational leadership style inspires and instills loyalty and determination in her staff to "get the job done" and ensure patients get what they need."

Another common theme was the promotion of education and learning at every level. "The best leaders promote a culture where their staff value themselves, value each other, and value the organization and the patient," said one of the nominators. Many noted their nurse leader's commitment to elevating the professionalism of the nursing staff by supporting and encouraging ongoing education.

"Under her leadership, we have exceeded our goal of a 10% increase in advanced degrees or certifications, increased our number of nurses belonging to professional organizations, and have met 100% compliance among nursing directors being master's prepared," wrote one nominator.

Almost all the essays mentioned the leaders' skills in mentoring and coaching others and their passion for nursing. This passion was reported as a significant source of inspiration for their staff, as was the nurse leader's visibility and approachability.

"She is always visible: offering nursing forums, making unit rounds with her directors, and safety rounds with our patient safety officer and fellow administrators," noted one essay.

Next week, I'll write about the winners of the Nursing Image Awards and what leadership qualities made them stand out to the judges.

Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at

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