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4 Leader Coaching Conversations to Engage Nurses

Publish Date: March 25, 2020


If you want to retain Millennial and Gen Z nurses, you need to honor their need for coaching and feedback.

What is your style of leadership? If it’s more focused on controlling your team members, you might be losing staff.

Millennial and Gen Z nurses, in particular, are looking for a different kind of leader—one who coaches and supports team members to be their best, according to Rose Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, the author of The Nurse Leader Coach: Become the Boss No One Wants to Leave and editor-in-chief of Nurse Leader for the American Organization for Nursing Leadership. Plus, join Sherman this spring for the Nurse Leadership Seminar – Get a Competitive Edge on Staff Retention and Satisfaction coming to a city near you.

Sherman says traditional leaders have been exclusively focused on the performance of the staff member in their current role. “Leader coaches realize that this is not enough. Younger staff want leaders who are interested in their professional growth and career development. The relationship is more of a partnership versus ‘I tell you what to do and you do it.’"

Start the Conversation

To get the best from your team as a leader coach, you need to be strengths-focused versus just pointing out deficits in performance or staff weaknesses, Sherman advises. “Leader coaches also know that the best outcomes will happen when staff are involved in setting their own goals and are given encouragement.”

Here are four important conversations Sherman suggests any good leader coach should initiate to tap into staff nurses’ individual goals.

  1. Professional Development
    Talk to a nurse about how he or she plans to grow in professional practice, Sherman suggests. This can include coaching on possible ways they can build expertise in learning activities that focus on skills development, critical thinking, and assessment. “Even simple approaches to advancement such as time organization can be valuable topics for coaching discussions.”

  2. Career Development
    These coaching conversations should focus on career opportunities in a nurse’s specialty and how they can work to achieve these opportunities. Sherman shares an example of a nurse who wants to try for a leadership position but needs more skills to succeed in the role. Rather than pointing out her deficiencies, a leader coach works with the nurse to build a plan toward leadership development and commits to regular meetings to provide feedback.

  3. Performance Management
    These are tougher conversations that occur around areas of performance that need improvement such as time and attendance or how a nurse manages interactions with peers, professional colleagues and patients, Sherman notes.

  4. Resiliency Coaching
    Talking about how to reduce a nurse’s stress and anxiety is important to avoid burnout by sharing evidence-based resiliency strategies such as more sleep, exercise or better nutrition.

    “The need for resiliency coaching conversations is on the increase,” Sherman advises. “Our younger generations of nurses are feeling more stress and anxiety. Factors in the environment such as coronavirus can also lead to a higher anxiety level among staff who worry about either getting it themselves or transmitting it to their families.”

Have a Growth Mindset

Sherman cautions that trying to be a problem-solver in these conversations will not work. “Coaching requires you to help your team members by giving them the tools to discover their own solutions— to do this you need to listen, reflect, and ask powerful questions to help nurses see themselves and the world around them.”

The leader as coach approach begins with a shift from a fixed to a growth mindset, Sherman suggests, explaining that when you have a growth mindset, you recognize that what is needed from leaders changes over time and so must you. If you have this fixed mindset, you will struggle to recruit and retain the best nurses.

Being a leader coach takes practice, Sherman says. “Stay open, stay curious and keep learning".

Build your leadership coaching skills with more wisdom from Sherman in her book The Nurse Leader Coach: Become the Boss No One Wants to Leave.

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