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Building for Success: Empowering Tomorrow’s Nurse Leaders

May 9, 2024
May 9, 2024

What can healthcare organizations do right now to ensure that nurse leaders are truly empowered to lead? In a recent HealthStream webinar entitled "Building for Success: Empowering Tomorrow’s Leaders" the topic was how to support and develop future leaders. There are some foundational skills required by nursing leaders to ensure that they are able to navigate the changing clinical and business landscape in healthcare. Along with leading through change, nurse leaders need patient advocacy skills, real strategies for leadership development, and succession planning education.

The webinar was moderated by Daniel Pawlus and featured Sarah E. Gray, DNP, RN, CEN, FAEN, Chief Nursing Officer, Sigma.


SIGMA – At a Glance

Dr. Gray began with a history and overview of SIGMA. Founded in 1922 with just 6 nursing students from the Indianna University School of Nursing, Sigma is now a global organization with more than 100,000 members from over 600 chapters in more than 100 countries around the world.  She shared that the Sigma’s vision is to connect and empower nurse leaders thereby transforming global healthcare.

During the presentation Dr. Gray shared key insights about the skills needed for successful professional development and the best ways to equip nurses to grow into the empowered leaders needed in today’s healthcare environment. In turn, this can create a positive and efficient healthcare workforce while fostering an environment that is ripe for learning and development.


Foundational Elements in Leadership Competency

Dr. Gray shared that there are three key elements that organizations will find essential to maintaining an appropriate focus on an environment that supports development. First, she encouraged leaders to identify the significance of education in empowering nurses to assume leadership roles. She also pointed out that educational resources to support this journey were abundant. In addition, she stressed the importance of having strategies (in addition to the resources required) that will support leaders in their roles.


Creating an Environment of Confidence

Creating confidence in nurses, whether they be new nurses or nurses in the throes of burnout, requires an understanding of conflict. Dr. Gray cited the work of Adam Grant, a writer who has focused on how to foster innovation, growth and progress by changing how we think about conflict and disagreement. He once famously said that, “the absence of conflict is not harmony, it’s apathy.”

Avoiding conflict simply does not lead to authentic team harmony. Rather, it likely represents a lack of engagement. According to Grant, true harmony occurs when individuals feel comfortable expressing diverse perspectives, can engage in healthy debate, and are willing to collaborate on solutions. This approach leads to stronger relationships, and ultimately, to better decision making.


Professional Development – Where to Focus

Dr. Gray challenged leaders to think about where to focus when developing leadership knowledge and skills. She addressed three of the many areas that leaders may choose to address. Sigma and HealthStream have partnered to provide professional development courseware for nurses that covers a wide variety of leadership topics. In this webinar, Dr. Gray focused on three.


  1. Transformational Leadership: The 2012 work of Kouzes and Posner is the framework for this 1.6 hour course. If focuses on five key attributes of transformational leadership – modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act and encouraging the heart.
  1. Leadership Succession Planning: Many organizations fail to engage in leadership succession planning. Dr. Gray pointed out that this is often a result of leaders feeling “burned” by the process. Perhaps they have invested heavily into potential leaders who have then left the organization or they stayed and their leadership potential failed to materialize. Coaches and mentors need to recognize this factor as a personal barrier that needs to be addressed in order to embrace mentorship. In other cases, organizations fail to address a leadership succession planning program because they have a short-term focus that has not prioritized building a pipeline of emerging leaders.
  1. Advocacy Certificate Program: Gray also shared information on Sigma’s Advocacy Certificate Program. While the focus of the program is on how to advocate for patients, it also takes a much broader view of advocacy. Leaders need to advocate for their patients, but they also need to engage in political advocacy on key healthcare issues as well as advocating for patients as hospital policy is being created.

The program is 4.7 hours and covers the various stages of advocacy beginning with awakening – the realization that policies impact both nurses and patients. The second stage involves engaging with coalitions both inside and outside of the organization that can improve patient advocacy. Stage three is organizational engagement and the last is addressing the global impact by taking advantage of the broader advocacy networks that can bring leaders together.