But a lot has evolved since the days of lanterns and nursing caps, and nurse leaders should keep a few things in mind.
Trish O’Keefe, RN, MSN, NE-BC, is the CNO at Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center, a member of Atlantic Health System, where she manages about 1,600 nurses.
In her presentation "Passion to Lead" at the Nurse.com spring career fair in Secaucus, N.J., the 16-year CNO highlighted structures of nurse leadership and ways nurses can grow into stronger leaders themselves.
Nurse leadership in general, O’Keefe said, has evolved to a more collaborative approach and now emphasizes working in teams, decision making, negotiation skills and delegation of powers.
This is also the first time in history when four generations are working side by side, she said. It is important to remember each of these generational groups has a different approach to work, and must be managed as such. O’Keefe said leaders should try to understand each group individually, such as when they grew up and what is important in their work environment.
Generational differences aside, O’Keefe said nurse leaders ultimately must affirm each staff member of his or her individual role.
"Be respectful and really drive home that they are an important nurse in the organization," she said. "All four cohorts really need to have an empowered environment to work in and be able to express themselves."
The veterans, who include nurses born before 1945, are continuing to work because they are committed to the profession and may need to financially, O’Keefe said. Veterans like a disciplined approach, she said, noting their experience is valuable, and leaders need to respond by affirming this.
Baby boomers often have a strong work ethic, so much so that it may border on workaholic, O’Keefe said. They value work performance, are optimistic and also are service-oriented team players, she added. Generation X, born between 1965 and 1979, is about balance, O’Keefe said. They prefer to work in teams rather than individually, and value creativity in their work, she said.
Then there is Generation Y, or the millennials. These younger nurses are tech savvy, O’Keefe said, and usually embrace changes such as electronic health records. They desire autonomy, but are not necessarily as loyal as the other groups, she said, noting they value relationships with co-workers, but will switch hospitals or positions often. This generation tends to need structure in the workplace, she said.
Ardelle Bigos, RN, MSN, CMSRN, is the CNO at Newtown (N.J.) Medical Center, also part of Atlantic Health System, where she manages about 310 nurses and 700 employees.
Bigos said the biggest challenge as a nurse leader is communication. With so many different nurses and staff members involved, she said it is important to make sure communication is clear and concise so everyone receives the same message.
Following a suggestion from her staff, Bigos circulates a weekly "CNO notes" email to help close gaps in communication and keep the entire staff on the same page.
Bigos also works to promote staff values, which include Atlantic Health’s PRIDE values. PRIDE is an acronym for the principles of professionalism, respect, involvement, dignity and excellence. By keeping the staff focused on the same foundational values, starting at the top down, the hospital is more likely to succeed, she said.
O’Keefe said nurse leaders need to remember to look at themselves.
"Look at your philosophy, personality and experience, and evaluate yourself first [to] see what you need to improve on," she said. "As a leader, you need to know what your strengths are [and] be aware and evaluate yourself and how you are motivated."
It also is crucial for nurse leaders to have a vision, Bigos said, and to remain enthusiastic about it.
"If you keep excitement and passion, everybody will catch on," she said. "It’s like a spark that will just keep growing."
Andrea Scott is a freelance writer.
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