You’re a nurse leader and wonder why you’re exhausted?

By Norman C. Olsen | 06/21/2016

Do it right, and sleep easy!

Image of tired man
Nurse leadership is exhausting! This complex, multidimensional role consumes intellectual and emotional energy. It involves constant learning that requires engagement of mind and spirit. Effective leaders are those who feel called to guide, nurture, and invigorate staff members to reach their full potential as nurses.
Norman OlsenLeading others is not a static endeavor. A formula that proves successful once may not be successful in the future. As new challenges arise, the workforce becomes more multicultural, and younger generations enter the profession, leaders must grow and develop to respond to the changing environment while remembering past lessons learned.
You can learn a lot from teachers!
Nurse leaders can learn much from the profession of teaching. Educator William Ayers (2001) observes, “Teaching is not something one learns to do once and for all and then practices, problem-free, for a lifetime” (p. 122). The same is true for nursing leadership. It should be intellectual, ethical, thoughtful, caring, and reflective, and it requires seeing the wholeness and uniqueness of each person supervised (Ayers, 2001).
Leaders must recognize the value of each person they lead, even when that value is not readily apparent. We choose how we see those with whom we work. As nurse leaders, we have a responsibility to be respectful, honest, and attentive to staff members—supportive of their growth and sensitive to their vulnerabilities. This takes time, energy, hard work, passion, and personal insight.
You can learn a lot from those you lead
Nurse leaders can learn much from nurses who demonstrate spirituality. Spirituality is not religiosity. Just as there are spiritual dimensions to nursing care, so there are spiritual aspects to nursing leadership. Just as bedside nurses encounter patients at crucial times in their lives, nurse leaders interact with staff members at crucial times in theirs. As nurses seek to meet the physical and emotional needs of patients, they themselves may be experiencing issues related to health; relationships; aging; work requirements, such as long shifts; and finances.
Although leaders often feel ill-equipped to deal with these issues, it is vital that we strengthen our nurturing skills so we are better able to help people we lead feel a renewed sense of hope, purpose, and meaning, as well as connection with others. These are spiritual aspects of life, and nurse leaders need to provide spiritual care and leadership (Timmins et al., 2014).
Relationships matter
Relationships we have with members of the nursing staff matter. Fostering a sense of community within nursing units helps workers commit to colleagues and promotes a sense of belonging and cohesion. Communication improves, and trust increases. Values become shared, as do expectations (Crawford, 2010). Leaders who help staff members improve their communication skills and provide social support in the workplace help prevent bullying and empower staff members to build positive mentoring relationships with each other. Positive relationships between nurses and a sense of community make a stressful job more rewarding and contribute to staff retention (Hubbard, 2012). This kind of holistic nursing leadership helps create healing environments that promote safety and improve quality of care (Hubbard, 2012).
The emotional involvement and complexity associated with the nurse leader role can be exhausting. However, while being an effective nurse leader may be tiring, it is also rewarding and exhilarating. When we perform our roles effectively, creating environments in which each individual feels valued and has a sense of belonging, the nursing communities we lead are better able to overcome challenges. It’s exhausting, but that kind of fatigue helps us sleep easily, with no regrets.
Norman C. Olsen, MSN, CAGS, RN, CNE, AHN-BC, a nurse educator certified by the National League for Nursing, is assistant professor of nursing at Piedmont College, Demorest, Georgia, USA.

Ayers, W. (2001). To teach: The journey of a teacher (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Crawford, J. (2010, Summer). AHNA: Building a community to advance holistic health and nursing. AHNA Beginnings, 30(3), 12-13.
Hubbard, L. A. (2012, December). Advancing holistic nursing leadership. AHNA Beginnings, 32(6), 4-7.
Timmins, F., Neill, F., Griffin, M. Q., Kelly, J., & De La Cruz, E. (2014, March/April). Spiritual dimensions of care: Developing an education package for hospital nurses in the Republic of Ireland. Holistic Nursing Practice, 28(2), 106-123. doi: 10.1097/HNP.000000000000015
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