Which nurses have leadership potential?

Twelve qualities to look for

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. Confrontational skills. "Confrontation is not always the evil’ most people believe 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; 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 thinking. "The ability to see the big picture is a wonderful trait, although it is difficult to evaluate at a staff level," says Jazwiec.

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

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

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

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

9. Enthusiasm. "Pick individuals who will not only do a good job, but are successful [in] 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 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 communication skills. "Communi-cation skills and approachability are extremely important. Look for nurses who are emotionally capable, have a warm personality, and can get 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. They have to be able to articulate the unit’s needs, yet understand the personal needs of the staff to achieve that important balance."

11. Ability to work hard. "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. Those that are happy at home and at work make great leaders."