5 Things Nurse Leaders Should Stop Saying to Staff

By Vesper Patrick on Thu, Aug 15, 2013

nurse leadersNurse leaders often don’t realize the power of the words they use to influence others either in a negative or positive way. In leadership development, we spend a great deal of time talking about things we need to do to be more effective. Less time is spent on what we need to stop doing. I asked a group of registered nurses what phrases they would like to see their bosses STOP using. The following are the top five:

1.  That’s just the way I am.

I recently had a nurse leader colleague tell me that she knows she can be very sarcastic in some of her responses to questions asked by staff. She felt she was vindicated because she always warns her staff “that’s just the way I am.” I am sure the staff nurses wonder why she doesn't work to control her sarcasm if she knows her comments are inappropriate and hurtful.

2.  That can’t be done.

There is no greater idea killer than the phrase “that can’t be done.” Some nurse leaders quickly respond to suggestions with this phrase. Even when the suggestion seems outside the bounds of what can be done in an organization, a better response would be that you are not sure it is doable but will investigate the possibilities.

3.  You need to work smarter instead of harder.

Health care organizations today are struggling to reduce costs. Staffing is one of the largest parts of any organizational budget so it is not surprising that there have been staffing cuts. Staff look to their leaders for guidance about how to more effectively manage a larger number of patients. The response “you need to work smarter instead of harder” has become a well-worn cliché that is not helpful. Leaders need to provide some specific guidance about what parts of the work of nursing could be either delegated or omitted when the staffing is reduced.

4.  That was not my fault.

Professional accountability is hot issue today in nursing. This accountability for one’s actions needs to start with nurse leaders. The reality is that when you are in a leadership role, you are accountable at some level for mistakes and errors that happen that impact your patients or staff. Nursing staff don’t respect leaders who always look to find someone to blame when a mistake occurs, whether it is an administrative or clinical error.

5.  Failure is not an option.

We don’t live in a risk free world and failure is always a possibility, despite our best efforts. A nurse told me that her manager has the phrase “Failure is not an Option” on her outgoing email signature. She observed that her organization is trying to improve patient safety by implementing a blame free culture.  You can imagine, she reflected, how unlikely it is that staff would bring any mistakes to her attention knowing her attitude toward failure. It is very likely that is not at all the message that this manager meant to convey to her staff.

As I often mention, nursing leadership is a journey. We grow and learn from our successes and failures.  Nurse leaders probably use phrases repeatedly that are not seen as helpful to the staff that they supervise. It may be that you use one of the phrases on list above but perhaps not. 

If you could, is there something you wish you could tell your nurse manager to stop saying to you and your coworkers? What would you say to him/her?

Visit NurseTogether contributor Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN on her blog at Emerging RN Leader.

Visit NurseTogether contributor Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN on her blog at Emerging RN Leader.

By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN

Nurses and nursing students, if you are interested in sharing your nursing knowledge and experiences with our audience by becoming a NurseTogether contributing author, please click here.  If you would like to comment on the article please see below.

- See more at: http://www.nursetogether.com/capitalizing-nursing-management-strengths#sthash.UeNI3UhA.dpuf

Visit NurseTogether contributor Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN on her blog at Emerging RN Leader.

By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN

Nurses and nursing students, if you are interested in sharing your nursing knowledge and experiences with our audience by becoming a NurseTogether contributing author, please click here.  If you would like to comment on the article please see below.

- See more at: http://www.nursetogether.com/capitalizing-nursing-management-strengths#sthash.UeNI3UhA.dpuf

Visit NurseTogether contributor Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN on her blog at Emerging RN Leader.

By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN

Nurses and nursing students, if you are interested in sharing your nursing knowledge and experiences with our audience by becoming a NurseTogether contributing author, please click here.  If you would like to comment on the article please see below.

- See more at: http://www.nursetogether.com/capitalizing-nursing-management-strengths#sthash.UeNI3UhA.dpuf
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1 COMMENT

Melody Therence 4 months ago
I am in agreement when you mentioned that when a nurse manager or someone in leadership tells you that "failure is not an option", then turns around and makes the observation that the organization is trying to improve patient safety by creating a "No Blame" culture, then that manager needs to review what W. Edwards Deming had to say about empowering the worker through education. It should be evident that mistakes can not be addressed and corrected if they are not brought to light. Any mistakes made in processes suggest variation, and variation is what needs to be addressed. There should be limited variation in the processes. How can processes be improved if no one feels safe in admitting that they have delivered care in the wrong way, or that mistakes have been made? What they fear is the loss of their jobs, and even worse, their licenses. But someone needs to inform this particular manager that says that "failure is not an option" that creating a culture that promotes quality and safety is critical to realizing the greatest impact and sustainability of the organization's improvement efforts. The right culture would be one that gives a priority to transparency, quality and safety initiatives; staff can share performance data without fearing retribution; and have a staff at all levels and throughout the various facilities that collaborates and shares best practices. If managers would stop "ego-tripping" , maybe something can be done about how healthcare is being delivered.