So You Want to Be a Chief Nursing Officer?

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


March 26, 2015

In This Article

Advice on Becoming a Nurse Executive

The top advice, articulated by both Gordin and Polhemus, for nurses who see administration in their future is: find a mentor.

Polhemus explains. "It's important to find a mentor, someone who will invest the time in teaching and guiding you. Find out what that person did to get where they are today. What steps did they go through to become a CNO? Network with other professionals as much as possible, and continue your education. Focus on the 'soft skills,' understanding relationships and how to develop collaborative relationships. That side of the business will be the key to your success."

Gordin has talked to many younger, emerging nursing leaders whose goal is to become a CNO. "They are overly focused on getting their ticket punched every step of the way. My counsel to them is not to worry so much about what your next move is. Focus on today and being the absolute best leader you can be in the job you are in today. People have a hard time trusting that. I have seen nurses get derailed because they are looking ahead at where they are going rather than focusing on the staff they are responsible for today. That can be detrimental to their careers." Gordin also advises budding leaders to diversify their experience. "Take an opportunity to cover a clinical area you are less familiar with, or take on a new job in a completely different area," she suggests.

Gordin used an executive coach when she first took the step to the senior management level, and she negotiated with her hospital to pay for it. An executive coach is a personal trainer in leadership; not necessarily a nurse but a counselor with expertise in all aspects and levels of leadership. Nurses who are advancing from one level of leadership to another might benefit from working with an executive coach, at least during the role transition period. "When I began my current position, I arranged for an executive coach to work with my entire team of directors. It expanded their horizons and gave them a different view of what directors could be," explains Gordin.

Polhemus suggests using a leadership assessment tool to determine one's leadership potential. "The results would provide nurses with some coaching tips to help them learn how they could evolve as a leader."

Gordin believes that every professional nurse is already a leader, and these skills can be used strategically to catapult the nurse into a formal leadership role. "You are a leader when advocating for your patient. You are a leader in your department because you see something that needs to be improved, you bring that to your manager's attention, and then you participate in that process. Or you become a leader at the hospital level by joining a council and co-leading a project. If you do those things successfully and want to become a formal leader, you will be in a good position to apply and be selected."


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