7 Characteristics of a Nurse Leader Part 1 – Humility

Becoming a Clinical Leader is a unique challenge and calling. Some of us nurses are called to be at the bed side, some behind a desk, and yet others to become managers and leaders in our industry. Whatever your calling in the nursing profession you can find your niche, one of the amazing rewards of being a nurse! However, if you are at the bedside, in the office, in the car visiting homes, we are all viewed as leaders. As nurses, we are looked up to, counted on for our expertise, and are a part of one of the most trusted professions in the world. As we go on this journey of discovery together. We will explore how to be better nurses, stronger leaders, and maybe even better people.

I have worked in many fields. However, since becoming a Clinical Leader I have discovered a glaring truth. There are many great nurses out there. There are few great nurse leaders. In the medical field, we love having nurses step into management rolls and be a part of the decision-making process. However, nurses are not always ready for this role. So as  a foundation I wanted to explore those characteristics that make a great clinical leader. We will break this into several parts as we explore these characteristics.

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Part 1. Humility 

“Humility- the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc.”
– vocabulary.com

In many areas, there is a misconception you have be the expert, all the time, to be a good leader. This is simply not true. I remember when I first got into my leadership role as a District Director with multiple communities reporting to me, I thought I had to know everything. In fact, it wasn’t until I had a fantastic boss (who has shown me a lot in leadership) that I realized it was ok not to know everything, it’s ok to say I don’t know.

Take for example nurse… we will call her Susie… I hired nurse Susie from a floor nurse position into a Health and Wellness Director position. She interviewed fantastic and was a great nurse. Then it came time to train her. While spending the first 5 minutes with her it became apparent she knew everything there was in her field and did not need my assistance. I spent weeks with her trying to get through a basic orientation. Fast forward 6 weeks and nurse Susie quit. Why? Because she didn’t feel she had the training to do her job and felt she was failing. It made me question, why? Nurse Susie was a fantastic nurse. She probably knew more in the clinical field than I did. I spent more time in training and in very much the same manner as some of my most successful HWD’s.

What went wrong here? What did I miss?

An article in the Economist states:

“If leadership has a secret sauce, it may well be humility. A humble boss understands that there are things he doesn’t know. He listens: not only to the other bigwigs in Davos, but also to the kind of people who don’t get invited, such as his customers.” 
The Economist, 26 Jan. 2013

She liked to flaunt what she knew to the point of being so consumed with proving her knowledge and how great she was, she never stopped to learn. Since then I have learned both to seek candidates willing to learn, humble in their career, and when I do get those that lack humility have the confidence to call them out on it and bring it into the light. The pressure as a nurse to never make a mistake (I mean it’s not like people’s lives are in our hands or anything) bleeds over into our role as a clinical leader making it hard for us to accept our faults. on my path, I have discovered only when I humble myself can I grow and become better.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
 Ernest Hemingway

3 steps to a humble you:

  1. Realize you don’t know and can’t know everything.

  • Once you accept that you don’t know everything and can never know everything there is freedom. You can learn and not be ashamed, ask questions, and gain knowledge and inspiration from everything everywhere. You begin to seek knowledge to better yourself as a journey of growth rather than fasted route to destination.
  1. Step onto the ground floor

  • I love the show undercover boss. I love to see these CEO’s step into the shoes of their ground floor workers and learn what their company is about. By giving yourself time to step in and work hip to hip with caregivers, CNA’s and even housekeepers you often get a new perspective and yes, learn a thing or two from these valuable players. I worked as a Health and Wellness Director for a memory care unit and one day I decided to come in with the morning shift and work alongside the team. Not because we were short staffed, but because I wanted to learn. I learned more about my role and how it effects the residents and caregivers in that one day than all my orientation combined. To value my team and to listen to their vast knowledge and experience.
  1. Quit comparing yourself to others

  • Don’t get me wrong I love to read about my hero’s both in the fiction worlds and in biographical world. But I have learned to look at them for inspiration on how to become a better me rather than a mirror I am trying to reflect myself in. There is always someone better at something than you, but no one will ever be better at being you. You are your greatest attribute. Let your uniqueness shine and when someone comes along and does something better be humble enough to learn from them and you will grow beyond what you ever thought you could.

Part 2 Coming soon will provide link here.

Written By: Derek Di Camillo RN

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.