President's Video: Cultivating Leadership in All of Us

May 31, 2022

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In her new video, AACN President Beth Wathen encourages nurses to advance their leadership skill set. And she offers six tips on how to use our bold voices to help shape the future of healthcare.

It has never been more apparent how important it is to have strong, passionate nurse leaders at all levels and in all roles.

Ironically, the pandemic has helped many nurses find their voice – which is great. And I think helping nurses to see themselves as leaders and to grow their influence is wonderful. It’s vital that all nurses have opportunities to realize their potential and to grow. But, it’s also critical that the energy, passion, and even the anger and frustration in our community right now, be channeled into something positive.

I hope you, like me, are ready to be part of the solutions our profession so desperately needs.

Many of you are already seen as accomplished, recognized leaders. However, I also work with many nurses who don’t view themselves as leaders — but I do.

I don’t view leadership as a title or a role — it’s about who inspires you and who has influence with others — and I know many incredible nurse leaders whose entire careers were spent as front-line caregivers and never had an official “leader” title on their nametags.

So, no matter the role, how can we cultivate leadership in all of us? What steps can we take to advance our leadership skill set, to become change agents for tomorrow? I believe that now, more than ever, is the time for us to use our leadership skills and our bold voices to help shape healthcare for the future.

On my leadership journey, I have discovered many helpful strategies that can help take your leadership skills to the next level:

  • Know your strengths — Know the characteristics you embody that would make you a successful leader — whether you work as a front-line nurse or as a CNO. It took me a while to understand my strengths, because many of us tend to focus on our weaknesses or our “areas of opportunity.” So, do the important work of self-reflection to understand your strengths. By doing that, you’ll gain confidence and grow as a leader.
  • Step outside your comfort zone — If I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone throughout my career, I guarantee you I would not have the honor to serve as AACN president. Take the leap! Try something new, raise your hand and jump in. Outside of your comfort zone is often where doors open and opportunities emerge. Consider ways to push yourself and give it a try!
  • Find a mentor — My mentors have inspired and pushed me. Find yours. It doesn’t have to be a formal mentor partnership. My most trusted mentors have been informal mentors — colleagues I admire and trust, who I want to learn from. Often our mentors recognize great things in us that we don’t always see in ourselves. Look inside and outside your circle: Who might be an inspiring mentor for you? Also, when you’re ready, consider mentoring someone else.
  • Hone your listening power — Great leaders are great listeners, and they listen deeply. Listening creates safety, builds trust and fosters collaboration. And it allows you to understand what others are communicating. Successful leaders realize that leadership is not about them, but about those they lead. Another great way to hone this skill is listening to AACN’s Leadership Podcast Series. The series offers insights from subject matter experts discussing a large variety of topics, and you can listen anytime.
  • Focus on the possibility — Too often over the past two years we have been enmeshed in the negatives. How could we not be? But by keeping your eyes on your goal and finding opportunities in the chaos, you can begin to envision new possibilities. Influential, inspiring leaders look beyond the immediate chaos and help others to see the light and find hope. Think about the nurses you’ve worked with. Remember the ones who, even in the darkest days, said, “We can do this. We’ll get through this”? Those folks are leaders, and a perfect way to recognize them is to nominate them for one of AACN’s Excellence Awards.
  • Pursue opportunities to lead — Grow your network, build relationships and cultivate relationships from which you can learn and develop throughout your career. If you want to grow your leadership portfolio, raise your hand! Step up. Look to be among those who want to be a part of the solution. Get more involved with your professional governance committee at work or with your state nursing council. Professional organizations such as AACN can provide a powerful boost to your leadership development journey, offering opportunities to nurture your skills in ways you might not find in your job. AACN volunteer work – including work groups, task forces and conference planning committees – has been a major part of my leadership development. I encourage you to begin your volunteer journey, if you haven’t already started. Get involved.

Now is the time to cultivate leaders within ourselves and within nursing. What will your first step be?

What commitment will you make to cultivate leadership within yourself? Please share your ideas with me at