5 Essential Traits Of A Clinical Leader
Author Noelle Kohles MSN, RN, CPN
Editor Elizabeth Moran, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC
Clinical leadership is an important component to successful healthcare systems.But, what makes an effective leader? Within the context of an ever changing healthcare environment, medical and nursing leads must wear many hats to keep up with the dynamic nature of their roles. Day-to-day operations consist of competing priorities and multitasking, all the while leading a clinical team to provide excellent, quality patient care. To succeed, leaders must—so to speak—keep their fingers on the pulse. Clinical leaders who encompass and master the following five traits are most likely to lead and manage with ease: self-awareness, empathy, shared decision-making, delegation, and humility.
How well do you know yourself? Are you the type of leader that can quickly jump into action and handle an acute emergency on the fly? Or, are you the kind of leader that needs to process the deliverables before responding? There is no singular approach that all leaders should adhere to; instead, your method should be the one you can best execute. Every hiccup is a learned opportunity. With every failure, comes growth. Becoming aware of “what you say and how you say it” will ultimately drive the outcomes you are trying to achieve.
Think about your approach. Reflect. Ask yourself, “What did I say or do to get the reaction that I did?” This exercise is great to practice when leaders achieve success, but just as importantly when they do not.
As a clinical leader, you will be faced with stressors frequently. You must have the ability to know what you are capable of handling. Learn to overcome what triggers your negative reactions—this is crucial to how effectively you will lead your team. Clinical leaders must be grounded and understand themselves before they can understand others.
Empathy – Getting to know your staff
Get to know your staff on a personal and professional level. This is one of your most important jobs as a clinical leader. Their success is your success. Your team is a direct reflection of how you lead. Find out who your staff are and how you can support their professional growth. Set weekly office hours with an open-door policy to meet 1:1 with staff. Staff wants to feel that they have the support from their leader, in real-time, when issues arise. Each team member holds a different strength that, when recognized, can achieve the best outcomes for patient care and professional development. Building upon these strengths instills trust with your team and allows them to participate in the decision-making process.
Shared decision-making – Being Inclusive
There are times when leaders need to make mandatory changes related to regulatory updates or for example, Joint Commission Standards. However, as it pertains to improving care at the bedside, shared decision-making is the gold standard to patient care. If clinical leaders conceptualize what shared-decision making is for clinicians and patients, and then apply it to their staff, they will reach their desired outcome. Being inclusive promotes buy-in and builds trust. When change is necessary, be clear and concise with your staff. Openness allows staff to understand what needs to happen, enables them to ask questions, and contribute positively to the change. Shared decision-making also allows clinical leaders to prioritize tasks and delegate.
Delegation – Feeling empowered
A leader cannot do or know everything. Delegation is necessary to effectively manage the responsibilities of a clinical leader. The more empowered a leader is, the more efficient he or she will be when delegating. When clinical leaders delegate appropriately, it frees up their time to focus on putting quality work into the most important tasks at hand, as opposed to simply reacting quickly to “get it done.” Delegating projects also improves work culture by allowing staff to positively contribute and use their education and training to their fullest abilities. This model of teamwork provides a positive work environment because of a shared, common purpose. Ultimately, delegation is a win-win for both clinical leaders and clinical staff.
Humility – We are all human
Humility is a powerful force to be reckoned with as a clinical leader. To be humble means to own one’s mistakes, regardless of leadership title. Strength and humility are necessary traits to have when leading. To have humility shows your responsibility, accountability, and ownership of your actions. Leading by example shows staff that clinical leaders are human and make mistakes too. Owning your mistakes and recognizing the opportunity to learn from them is the greatest gift you can give to your staff. Humility shows that no one is perfect, and with recognition and correction, anything is possible. Nevertheless, it also leads to a safer clinical setting when staff does not shy away from admitting to, and learning from, clinical errors.
A single leader will not have all the answers, nor will he or she pretend to. The mark of a great clinical leader is one who listens, presents options to a team to be involved with decision-making, and promotes autonomy. Empowering, delegating, and trusting in your team to work together will not only improve the way they practice but also improve patient outcomes. Following these five traits will not put the leader in front or beside their staff, but rather behind them—to support and guide clinical excellence.
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Noelle Kohles is a Director in Nursing with a background in Pediatric Critical Care. Noelle coaches and mentors emerging leaders to develop the skills they need to lead successfully. She has over 15 years working in the hospital & health care industry. Skilled in Critical Care Nursing, Healthcare Management, and Healthcare. Noelle holds a BSN and MSN degree from the University of Phoenix. In her free time, Noelle loves spending time with her husband and four children. Every season she volunteers her time and is the head coach for her son’s youth soccer, flag football, and basketball team. She also loves to hike, traveling, and spending time at the ocean