By Jeanie Davis

You worked hard to reach your goals in nursing. As a case manager, you have a sense of leadership. But are you facing lots frustration in your position? Has your personal health deteriorated? Have you thought about quitting? Have you noticed that other team leaders seem stressed as well?

If this sounds familiar, it is time to listen to Anton Gunn, MSW, CDM, CSP, an inspirational speaker who has empowered thousands of healthcare leaders. He teaches simple skills that help nurses and case managers become more effective leaders.

Gain Trust, Understand Frustrations

First, you must understand the roots of your own frustrations — because your team members share those same problems, Gunn says. “Your responsibility is to help your team solve the challenges that cause frustration. That’s the bottom line.”

Every person asks three questions every day, although they will never verbalize these questions:

• Do you care about me?

• Will you help me?

• Can I trust you?

“Every person working under pressure and stress is asking these questions,” says Gunn. “Do you care what I’m having to deal with every single day — the number of patients, the challenges? Will you help deal with a difficult physician?”

As a leader, the answer has to be unequivocally “yes” in words and actions, Gunn says. “How are you doing to show your team you care about them and their concerns? How will you demonstrate as a leader you’re helping your team to overcome those challenges? You can’t just talk about it; you must show how you’re removing the obstacles. You must take action.”

Can they trust you? Will you have their backs when things get difficult — or are you unreliable? “People who don’t help, don’t care, make the work environment unsustainable,” he says. “That’s why people will leave.”

It is important for the case manager to build that system of trust. “Let each team member know they matter and they are valued, whether it’s the social worker, utilization review, physician, physical therapy,” says Gunn.

The focus is on the patient, but do not forget the patient’s family. “You’ve got to consider how the patient and family perceive your efforts,” says Gunn. “Think about how you communicate verbally and through your actions. Are you putting them at ease? Are you letting them know they can trust you?”

Raising CAIN

As a leader on the patient care team, case managers can raise the bar in patient care, says Gunn. He uses an acronym that outlines the four keys to elevate effectiveness, called Raising CAIN:

• Communication. Let people know your “why” — why you became a nurse, why you became a case manager. What motivates you in your profession? This has nothing to do with paycheck or job description. When others know your driving force, they understand where you are coming from. When you take time to understand a team member’s “why,” you can more easily motivate them. Your job as a case manager becomes easier when you dig beneath the surface to understand your team members.

Also, pay attention to your words, tone, and body language. These are critical points in interpersonal communication that are getting lost in today’s digital world, says Gunn.

“Nursing involves face-to-face communication, so you’ve got to tap into interpersonal skills,” he explains. “Be sure your body language is trust-building, not confrontational.”

• Attitude. “Your mindset is more important than your skill set,” says Gunn. “It doesn’t matter how impeccable your clinical skills are. If you don’t have the right mindset about your work environment, the job you do, and the mission you’re supporting, your skill set won’t matter. You won’t be as focused or successful, because you don’t have the right mindset.”

Many marginally talented people overperform, and many greatly talented people underperform, he points out. “It’s about their attitude, about what they do every day.”

A leader must show an attitude of success, and gratitude for the opportunity, for making a difference in people’s lives, Gunn explains. “You have to cherish the role you play in helping people live a longer, healthier life.”

• Influence. The more your leadership skills grow, the more you can influence others, says Gunn. “When you consider yourself to be a ‘servant leader,’ you are meeting the needs of others,” he explains. “That’s when you add value to your colleagues, your team, and your patient. You become a more influential person.”

At this point, you are at the top of your profession — the tipping point — where you will observe more than others. You also will become more influential to hospital leaders. You may find the CEO leaning on you as a leader. At that point, you can greatly increase your level of influence. You can help make the changes you have recognized as necessary. You can make changes that brought you to that calling — to improve the healthcare system.

• Network. Take every opportunity to grow as a leader, and gain more influence. Attend professional conferences where you can grow a powerful network, Gunn advises. “You’ll learn so much from your colleagues. You’ll benefit from opportunities you never thought possible. Stay connected with these people; build a massive network you can lean on and learn from. They can help you with your challenges.”

Remember this axiom: “The greater your network, the greater your net worth,” he adds.