Every nurse early in their career has had a Charge RN they did not want to work under on a shift. Ineffective shift leaders may lead “reactive” instead of proactive, be pessimistic, unpredictable, poor under stress, or may even find it challenging to relate to other nurses viewpoint. This is why nurse leaders with high tenants of Emotional Intelligence (EI) are effective, as they are able to consciously align their behaviors toward a desired outcome.
There have been many articles written about the relationship between high EI and effective leadership. Books like Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Dr. Travis Bradbury and Dr. Jean Greaves gives a framework for why EI is especially important in healthcare. The more complex an organization is, the more it needs leaders who can navigate complex issues and work relationships. EI enables a nurse leader to gain trust and understand emotions. Cognitive skills are important too of course, but not as important as EI in complex healthcare systems.
While EI frameworks provide lists of skills and personality traits needed for effective leadership, what exactly are the top traits which clinical nurses cite looking for in their floor leader, the Charge Nurse? As Carol Holm identified in her presentation “Attributes in Leaders Most Desired by Clinical Nurses” at the AONE 2019 Annual Meeting, adaptability, stress management, empathy, and assertiveness are the EI attributes most desired by clinical nurses.
Adaptability is how a Charge Nurse shows potential for change management. It is the flexibility and willingness to adapt to new conditions. Here is a quick example: Recall a situation where bed capacity is an issue on the floor. A Charge is asked to put estimated discharge dates into records as well as likely beds to become available for patient placement. Charge Nurses may be asked to forecast throughput and document better practice. Charge RNs have to follow up with clinical nurses to be better at disclosing information for records. Some Charge RNs can engage clinical nurses to be better and get buy-in to processes, and some do not. Clinical nurses look for a leader to push towards doing their records better, and organizations rely on adaptable leaders to champion change and processes.
The next most important trait which clinical nurses desire for their Charge RN is the ability to handle stress. Clinical nurses have all been through situations where the team is short-staffed due to call-ins or other factors, and a floor leaders ability to rally a team is vital. Besides just morale, what about a stressed out patient or patient’s family member with unrealistic expectations for that shift? A Charge RNs ability to support co-workers during times of stress is critical and supports the entire team.
Empathy in a first-level supervisory nurse is a top correlated trait with clinical nurse job satisfaction. It is the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and see other viewpoints. When “life happens” to bedside nurses, they want to feel like the Charge Nurse is there for support. And when empathy is not demonstrated, it leads to low nurse job satisfaction. Especially during nursing shortages, this is a top personality trait, and is also a crutch pillar of high EI.
This is the 4th highest rated trait which clinical nurses look for in a Charge RN. Nurses want a Charge RN who can stand up for the team and be forthright with leadership when appropriate to do so. This is the ability to say in a non-offensive way what needs to be said, and when to say it. For example, a Charge needs to be able to advocate for additional support in a particular shift, possibly due to the acuity on that shift. Having an assertive nurse leader is also linked with patient safety and quality of care.
While these are the top 4, other important traits which nurses look for in their first-level supervisory nurse are optimism, self-motivation, social awareness, and impulse control. In total, these eight traits are vital to having high EI and leading teams.
How can healthcare institutions encourage a culture of high EI?
• Promote nurses into leadership with identified traits of success – adaptability, stress management, empathy, and assertiveness.
• Use EI testing to screen nurse leader applications
• Encourage sharing of EI assessment scores among nurse co-workers. Have Charge Nurses find improvement areas by choosing a trait of impact focus based on their EI scores, and have them work with a colleague, mentor, or coach on that area of focus. There are many EI tests available for purchase.
• Purchase courses or libraries for EI education/training for Charge Nurses. Integrate Charge Nurse training into position descriptions, and use this nurse leadership development as a catalyst to start conversations on how to be an effective Charge RN.
Catalyst Learning offers its series NCharge®: “Nurses Learning to Lead.” Courses like Charge Nurse Fundamentals offer learning objectives like application of qualities for successful Charge Nurse leadership. It also teaches nurses to create an individual action plan to identify challenges and maximize opportunities faced in a complex hospital environment – a skill crucial to EI. A second NCharge course, Critical Thinking Skills For Charge Nurses, teaches nurses to apply critical-thinking skills to the decision-making process. Feel free to contact us to learn more.
“Attributes in Leaders Most Desired by Clinical Nurses”
Carol Holm at AONE 2019, Oregon Health & Science University and Academic Medical Center