3 Ways to help nurse managers transition into leadership

Dr. Lisa M. Aldisert - Print  | 

Promotions are a positive workplace occurrence, so why is it they can be such a challenge? We tend to promote our best employees into a position of leadership, but without the training and support they need to succeed, the transition can be rocky.

Simply put, leadership takes a different set of skills, which is why not everyone is willing or even called to be a leader. The first question to ask is if the person who is getting promoted truly wants to be in a managerial role. Great leadership takes a desire to learn, to continually improve, and to care about the people you manage. If the aspiration exists, there is more potential for success.

Management also requires additional competencies such as scheduling, planning and organization, navigating interdepartmental conflicts, giving feedback to employees, coaching and developing the team, delegation, goal setting and more. Many of these skills won't have been developed or utilized in the nurse's former role. The skills that make you a great nurse don't necessarily make you a great manager.

In the same way, the skills that make you a great coworker don't necessarily translate into being the boss of your peers. There may be a level of resistance from coworkers to be reporting to a former coworker. And the new manager may be reticent to do what's necessary because he or she is now managing friends. It's more difficult to manage friends than to mange a staff. Personal relationships—up and down the chain of command—can significantly affect how the managerial transition takes place.

Another pitfall that new nurse managers encounter is the inability to manage increased workload. In many cases, budgets require that nurse managers continue doing much of the hands-on work they were doing before the promotion. This requires the skill of time management.

New leaders will encounter many challenges, and there is certainly a learning curve to management. But if an organization is committed to helping its new managers transition, the curve can be a smooth one. Here are three things you can do to help your recently promoted nurse manger succeed in his or her new role.

Support the Promotion
Whether it be through training, personnel management, or time allotment, senior leadership must support the new nurse manager in making the transition. Otherwise, you are setting your manager up for a rocky ride and some failure along the way.

For example, if the new nurse manager needs to learn scheduling and patient management systems, make sure that adequate training and ramp up time are allotted for mastery of these technologies.

Along those same lines, when it comes to the required leadership soft skills, allow time for either an internal or external leadership development course. This will help the manager feel better prepared to deal with the people issues of the new position, as well as the hard leadership skills required for day-to-day management.

It can be an added challenge to perform leadership duties when other managers, either peer or senior level, don't treat the nurse manager in the new capacity and don't respect that the promotion has taken place. Make it obvious that the promotion is fully supported by upper level management—and outline clear expectations from your other managers.

If the nurse is still doing part of his or her old job while morphing into the new position, make sure the new manager has the time management tools to do both without feeling like he or she is doing two full-time jobs. If you allow adequate time for training and acclimation, you can often avoid periods of frustration, insecurity, and tentativeness because you have provided what is needed to be successful in the new role.

Hear Your New Manager Out
Your new nurse manager may have ideas that are very different from your approach. Listen to them! Take the promotion as an opportunity to receive some great ideas directly from the floor, from someone who has first-hand experience with what works and what doesn't. You have a unique opportunity to understand how management decisions trickle down into both nurse and patient experiences.

You no doubt made your promotion decision based on the potential of your nurse manager. If the potential is there, nurture it and let it rise to the surface. It may be more than you originally thought and ultimately help the organization grow. By encouraging even the smallest of ideas to be shared, you might be surprised at how minor ideas can improve productivity across an entire department and ultimately be very valuable.

A new manager who came directly from the team may also have some great ideas for building team camaraderie, which could result in a more cohesive team that works better during high-stress situations.

In addition, giving credit to your new manager's ideas will help instill confidence, which is a major help when transitioning into a new position.

Make a Mentor Match
Mentoring plays an important role in organizational growth. A mentor can provide a different level of guidance than the nurse manager's boss will provide. For example, a mentor can share personal experiences and "lessons learned" that the boss may be more hesitant to impart to a direct report.

If you have the flexibility, ask relatively new nurse managers to become mentors, for example, those with 1-2 years of management under their belt. This gives them the opportunity to reinforce their own learnings, while still being able to relate on a personal level.

One of the biggest benefits a mentor can provide is guidance on the dynamics involved in the transition from nurse to nurse manager. Sharing those experiences can be invaluable and may indeed shorten the new nurse manager's learning curve.

And by the way, don't allow the lack of a formal mentor program stop you from making a match. Think about how you might have benefited from a mentor, and just make it happen.

These three simple steps will make a big difference in the early success of the newly promoted nurse manager.

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