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Nurse Leaders: The Next Generation

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   October 19, 2010

One of the speakers at last month's Nursing Management Congress in Texas conducted a quick, informal poll among attendees to see which age brackets were represented. Overwhelmingly, one group stood out: those who were less than 15 years from retirement. The speaker's aim was to illustrate the point that our nurse manager workforce is aging and we face a succession planning crisis in the near future.

Despite this, many hospitals place little emphasis on developing formal nurse succession plans or offer leadership development classes to groom the next generation of leaders. I met new nurse managers at the conference who were there on their own dime, eager to develop their skills, learn how to become better managers, and increase their usefulness to their organizations and staff.

Several of these nurse managers credited their desire to progress their career and take management positions to coaches or mentors who provided career advice and development opportunities. Without these coaches, they said, they might never have thought management was an option for them or been interested in pursuing it.

Senior leadership should encourage these mentoring and coaching relationships in their organizations.

"You shouldn't wait until a leader leaves to start thinking 'who are we going to move in there?'" says Patty Kubus, president of Leadership Potential International, and a former nurse manager who now teaches leadership development and consults with hospitals on issues such as succession planning. "You should be constantly looking to identify leadership potential in staff, and focused on building leadership skills, so they are ready and waiting to fill open positions."

Kubus warns that hospitals face an exodus of managers from the baby boomer generation and that hospitals should be actively grooming younger generations. The importance of engaging younger generation doesn't apply simply to grooming future managers. Kubus warns that generations X and Y (also known as the millennials) want workplaces where they can progress and with access to continuing education that will help them advance their careers.

"Senior executives need to be developing staff constantly, so they are using their talents to the utmost," Kubus says. "Otherwise people will get bored and check out. Engagement will drop and productivity will drop, and you'll see it in your staff and customer satisfaction scores."

Kubus identifies three steps for a leadership development plan.

1. Identify staff who have potential: those who are competent nurses who have demonstrated skills in leadership, influencing others, and communication. Most people don't go into healthcare to become managers and leaders. Nurses, especially, may fear career progression means an end to caring for patients at the bedside. Get to know staff, coach them, and find out what their career aspirations are.

Talk to high-potential staff about management and administrative positions and relate the work to the organization's overall goal of providing excellent patient care.

"Make it sound exciting," Kubus says. "Many nurses see management as just administrative drudgery, rather than a rewarding leadership role. Start selling it."

2. Assess skills: As you identify staff who have leadership potential, assess their skills so you can build on strong skills and identify weak areas. For example, most nurses do not have a background in finance. Help them build their acumen with budgeting and financial issues.

3. Build on skills: Provide training sessions and action learning projects that are multidisciplinary to help them build strategic relationships with other people in the organization. Find them a mentor, maybe someone who is outside nursing and can provide a different perspective.

As staff progress, notice what they are doing and recognize their success. Provide feedback on their new skills or behavior and the effect it has on the organization. Focusing on succession planning will have nurses ready and excited about leadership and with expanded opportunities to make a difference.

Also See:
Doctor shortage looming? Use nurses, US report says

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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