1. So now you are a leader!

First day

So now you are a leader! Chomping at the bit to put all your leadership skills and techniques into practice as a manager.

I would like to you to pause and remember for a second, the very first day in your new job as a nurse unit manager or a nurse in a senior leadership position. You have been interviewed and have been offered the post. You are feeling on top of the world that here you are as a nurse leader with a team of staff who are looking to you for direction, guidance and support. You have arrived and can’t wait to get started.


Then slowly the reality starts to dawn, you are no longer seen as a colleague on the floor but the manager who is expected to run a busy ward, juggle beds, accommodate numerous roster requests, manage sickness, manage the hospital’s KPI’s, keep patients safe, Dr’s happy amongst just a few of the long list of priorities that occupy your daily shift. The buck stops with you. The promises that you made to yourself that you would do it differently as a leader you are quickly starting to realise it is not going to be that easy. The promise that you made to yourself that you will be visible and present on the ward talking to staff and checking in with patients, being a visible leader is rapidly disappearing in front of your eyes. It is already 4 pm in the afternoon and so far all you have done is fire-fight, juggle beds, attend meetings, sort out roster changes, deal with complaints and have not set foot on the ward apart from the morning huddle at 7 am.

Never enough time

You start your day usually before the night staff leave and you leave late at the end of the day. You are constantly checking your emails at home just in case there is something that even though you are off duty you need to sort out. After all, you are in charge and don’t want to be seen not to be doing a great job.


Wanting to be doing it right drives our behaviour and this is when we start to feel overwhelmed with the long hours, the constant checking of emails, the worrying that you have missed something important and that nagging feeling that you hope the ward staff have checked everything before they left their shift. Why is wanting it to be right so important? Is it the fear of criticism from our colleagues? maybe some of those colleagues applied for the same job that you got. Is it the fear of seeming vulnerable and showing emotions? After all, nurses are supposed to be tough and not get upset or heaven forbid show any emotions that would make us seem unprofessional or worse still not coping with the job. 


When overwhelm starts to take over we lose our sense of self, sleep becomes disrupted, we learn to run on less sleep. Healthy eating goes out of the window you find yourself seeking the quickest high carb option that can be bought for lunch at the outlet with the shortest queue along with the copious amount of coffee to stay awake and focused. Our new year’s resolutions on self-care have long gone with self-care becoming how to get through each day in one piece without keeling over or losing it when the next person asks to swap their days off. All too soon this becomes your way of working and all those dreams and aspirations have long gone and our personal resilience becomes depleted.

So how do we turn this around? How do we get the balance back in our working and professional life and revisit those dreams and aspirations that we had on day one?

To quote Brene Brown;

“ If we want to live a life of meaning and contribution, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play. We have to let go of exhaustion, busyness and productivity as status symbols and measures od self-worth. We are impressing no-one.”


I don’t know but I will find out

As a leader your staff will look to you as the font of all knowledge, realistically you can’t possibly know everything that there is to know and some staff will know more than you and that’s ok because if you know that someone is an expert of a particular clinical issue then you can tap into their expertise to expand your own knowledge. If someone asks you something that you don’t know the answer to respond with I don’t know but I will find out and come back to you does two things; a) it buys you some time to find out and b) expands your knowledge by becoming curious if you add a reasonable time frame which lets the person asking you the question know when you will come back to them this lessens the pressure to respond immediately.


Role modelling

Our teams model the behaviour that we as the leader models. If we model healthy behaviours such as leaving work on time, not checking emails when off duty, taking a proper meal break and focusing on yourself and your family then you are sending a powerful message to your team that these are the behaviours that lead to a positive work-life balance and research shows makes more productive teams. Lets’ think about this for a moment you will all know someone who has a positive work-life balance, have you ever stopped to ask them how they maintain the balance? There is probably much we can learn from asking the questions that we can apply the learnings to ourselves.



How much time have you taken to really understand the skills that you have within your team? Where are their strengths, what skills do they bring to the role? As a new leader, this is one of the most valuable fact-finding things that you can do when you are new in post. Even if you have been in your role for a while this is still a useful exercise to undertake.

Personal professional development

Review all the personal professional development documents of your direct reports as a starting point. If they don’t have a PPD then start to schedule them in. This gives you a great opportunity to learn about your staff and their development needs so that you can delegate safely and appropriately and shares your workload whilst growing the leaders of the future. The biggest cause of overwhelm is not delegating and wanting to control everything to satisfy our need for it to be right. This helps no one least of all ourselves as leaders.

These are just a few leadership techniques that you can try out in your workplace

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  1. Leonie Marshall August 23, 2019 at 5:49 pm

    OMG Eva, you followed me around with a secret camera!! You have described my experience with my management experience to a tee.
    Reading about getting to know the staff skill levels and strengths so I can delegate is my lightbulb moment. Not that I didn’t know to identify their skills and strengths but I didn’t use that information to assist me with my role because I believed, being the leader, I had to do it all to be the leader I thought I should be.
    If in my future I am in a position of leading a team again I will be taking my light bulb with me and share the love!

    1. thorntoner August 23, 2019 at 6:23 pm

      Thanks for the comments Leonie and love the lightbulb moment.


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