The 7 Characteristics of a Nurse Leader part 2 – Confidence

Business man super hero pose showing confidence

This is Part 2 of the 7 Characteristics of a Clinical Leader – Confidence

In part one we explored what I believe to be one of the most important parts of becoming a great clinical leader, Humility. We discussed how the humble person can step back and ask great questions and seek answers unashamed. The Importance of realizing you don’t know and can’t know everything, the need to step onto the ground floor and hip to hip with the front line, and how constantly comparing yourself to other’s may only hinder your improvement and not allow you to live up to your potential.  In Part two we will discuss what might look to be the antithesis to Humility and that is Confidence.

If you haven’t read part one I recommend clicking here and reading before going forward. 


Per, being confident is “Having a strong belief or full assurance; Sure;”

As I said, being confident might seem to be the opposite of being humble. When looking at a clinical leader, this is simply untrue, one can be both confident and humble. I have learned there is a time and place for everything. Can you be both confident and humble at the same time? I don’t know. But can you learn when to humble yourself and when to stand strong. Absolutely! In fact, in my opinion you can only grow confident through humility.

You know the term “fake it till you make it”, well that pretty much described my first step into leadership. I remember being terrified I was going to fail. Thinking I have never been a leader before why would someone follow my direction or take my advice.Putting on a poker face I would do my best to act like I knew what the heck I was doing! What I learned was to allowed myself to be humble and learn from everyone. I would ask questions and seek advice and took lots and lots of notes. For example, if I led an all staff meeting I would learn from what went right and what went wrong. Eventually I learned what worked and built confidence on a foundation of knowledge. What I found when doing this is that just like knowledge changes and new ways of doing things are being discovered when your confidence is based on knowledge you actually grow with it, learning not only how to do something but why.

Being confident is important in any leadership role. However, as a clinical leader your confidence may be the difference in someone living or dying. No pressure, right?

I had a fantastic nurse leader working with me in an assisted living setting. The nurse identified some wounds on a patient and reported to the patient’s provider. However, the provider did not address the wounds and they continued to get worse. The nurse became increasingly bothered by the look of the wounds and reported them multiple times asking for some intervention. When no intervention came, they decided enough was enough and sent the resident to the hospital for evaluation. The patient ended up having a major infection, and was becoming septic. This nurse truly saved the patients life by identifying the seriousness of wound and the systemic response the patient was going through. It was the nurse’s confidence that gave them the courage to disagree and be a patient advocate.  Have I done the same thing and been wrong? Absolutely! But I also learned when looking at something and my gut is screaming I better follow it because it might be wrong, but it also just might be right.

Abraham Lincoln in a letter to Major General Joseph Hooker wrote – “You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable quality”. The letter was one of strengths and weaknesses he saw in Major General Joseph Hooker but I think his view of confidence as being indispensable is very true in leadership today nearly 150 years later.

Below you will find 3 steps to get you empowered and on your path to confidence.

1.       Body Language

Picture this, you are a nurse and a provider has given his patient a poor diagnosis and is talking about hospice. The family walks into the room very unsure with feelings of guilt and regret. The nurse offers the family to sit down and talk. She is very knowledgeable about hospice but unsure of herself. She sits behind her desk with legs crossed at the ankles her arms hugging her torso and her head tilted down making very little eye contact.  What you see here is very typical of those first conversations. The family often leaves feeling they have not gotten what they wanted from the conversation and continues to struggle.

This time the nurse asks the family sit down and pulls out her chair at a 45-degree angle. Her feet are on the floor and back is straight. Her arms at her sides and she is slightly leaning forward. She is confident with her information but knows it’s not about her and instead listens. The family explains how they are feeling and brings up some questions that she answers confidently. When the family becomes emotional she sits quietly and rests her hand on their forearm and maybe even cries with them.  They leave feeling they have been listened to by someone who knows what they are doing and one step closer to accepting their loved one’s diagnosis.

In a Ted Talk from 2012 Amy Cuddy described in her talk entitled “Your body language shapes who you are” how body language not only reveals much of ourselves to others but also internally sets us up to succeed or fail.She gives the advice to put yourself into the superman pose for 2 minutes prior to going into those interviews or tough conversations. This will change your mindset and put you in a place of confidence ready to take on any challenge.

Check out the full ted talk here:

 2.       Do your homework

One of the ways I learned to become confident was to dedicate myself to learning. I read books. Lots of them, read blogs like this one, and listen to lectures. I pick from what I read and stick it in my note book adding to my arsenal. Going into situations I like to look at as much of the background as possible. If I am meeting with a family or an associate I often research and get a feel for what’s going on before I even enter the situation. This allows me to step in with a game plan and often a 2nd and 3rd game plan just in case the first one doesn’t work. I remember in Nursing school they spoke about SBAR – you all remember SBAR right? Situation Background Assessment Recommendation. I have found this applies to leadership very well. Going into a situation I will often research the situation, find out some history, talk to those near the situation about what the current feelings are of those involved and ask for recommendations. I can gather this information and be ready as I step into that conversation. Then make confident decisions or recommendations.

3.       Positive thoughts and Affirmations

I remember something my grandma would say to me years ago. I would come home say something along the lines of ” I can’t do this grandma” or “I always do this wrong”. To which she would look me in the eyes and say, “You’re right.” I would give her this quizzical, thanks a lot for the encouragement look and she would proceed to tell me, “If you say you can’t, you’re right, if you say you will always do it wrong, you will keep doing it wrong. But when you begin to say you can, and say you will, that is when you will succeed.” I will remember that for the rest of my life. Once you begin speaking positive things into existence they begin to stick. Trust me on this one, you will feel pretty silly standing in front of that mirror saying how confident you are and well-spoken, but soon you will begin to believe it, and once you believe it, you become it. 

Author: Derek Di Camillo

I have been a nurse since 2010 and come from a variety of fields. CPR Instructor, Customer Service, IT/Technology to name a few. Through my travels I have learned many lessons that have prepared me for leadership roles in the Assisted Living industry. I am constantly seeking to better myself and share what I have learned and am learning along the way.