Which nurses have leadership potential?

It’s a challenge to ascertain which nurses would be good leaders. "Pay attention to feedback from patients, physicians, or colleagues from other departments." says Liz Jazwiec, RN, a Crestwood-IL-based consultant. "It’s sometimes trial and error, but there are signs to look for."

Here are a dozen qualities to look for in future nurse leaders:

1. Listening skills. "A key part of communication skills is the ability to listen to staff, hear their concerns, and put them into action," says Barbara Pierce, RN, MN, divisional director of emergency services at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, AL. "Listening is a learned skill."

2. Confrontation skills. "Confrontation is not always the evil’ that most people feel it is. Confrontation happens every day," says Pierce. "Nursing leaders need to have the ability to defuse confrontation into win-win’ situations by having good intervention skills."

3. Risk taking. "Leaders need to be willing to try new ways of doing things, to put new ideas into practice," says Pierce. "The only constant is change. There are very few right or wrong ways to do things in this market, only what works. We have to be willing to try many different ways to find the one that will work best for a particular situation."

4. Strategic thinkers. "The ability to see the big picture is a wonderful trait, although it is difficult to evaluate that at a staff level," says Jazwiec.

5. Problem solvers. A desire to make things better is a good sign of leadership ability, notes Jazwiec. "Remember that some of these people might appear negative. But sometimes, given the opportunity to make things better, these folks shine," she says.

Look for nurses who can think on their feet to come up with solutions, says Pierce. "Staff who can act like air traffic controllers to keep everything going, juggling 10 things at one time, are ideal ED leaders," she says.

7. Flexibility. "Being flexible is the most important quality a leader can have," says Jazwiec.

8. Ability to motivate others. "Someone that can get results as a team leader demonstrates not only the ability to get things done, but also to get others to accomplish goals," says Jazwiec.

9. Enthusiasm. "Pick individuals who will not only do a good job, but who are successful leading teams that get results. These nurses make great candidates for future leaders," says Jazwiec. "When you ask the employee to lead a team, let them know that you are doing it because you think that they have good leadership ability. They should feel flattered and want to do a good job."

10. Good communicators. "Communication skills and approachability are very important. Look for nurses who are emotionally capable people and have a personality that stands out in terms of warmth and getting along with others," Jazwiec recommends.

Fairness, consistency, and team skills are important when communicating, emphasizes Pierce. "Being empathetic without being a mother to their peers is key," she says. "They have to be able to articulate the unit needs and yet understand the personal needs of the staff to achieve that important balance."

11. Hard workers. "Nurses who have integrity and a strong work ethic become role models within a group. Other nurses want to learn from them," says Jazwiec.

12. Balance. Balance is important, says Pierce. "Those who are willing to go the extra mile professionally and personally are key," she says. "Those that are happy at home and at work make great leaders."