Tips on applying nurse executive competencies . . . not only for nurses.

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Tips – September 2018
Applying Nurse Executive Competencies….Not Only for Nurses

Our August blog described Thunderbird’s Resilient Nurse Leader coaching series (read here), which is based upon five executive competencies determined to be most critical in today’s healthcare environment. Although the coaching series is designed for nurse leaders, the competencies are applicable to leaders in any industry, and for leaders at all levels.

Here are some quick tips for applying the competencies from wherever you lead.

Resilience: the ability to maintain energy, focus and perspective during high stress, situational ambiguity and insurmountable challenges.

This competency requires that leaders learn quickly and recover just as quickly when things go “wrong”, because there will always be the unexpected and often untoward results.

  • Take care of yourself so that you can be your best at work. As they say on airplane flights, “put your own mask on first.” Sleep, hydration, exercise, nutrition, relaxation . . . they are all important for optimal performance.
  • Find a confidante. Where is the safe place that you can go when situations feel stressful?
  • Reframe situations of “failure” and understand them as “good problems” because now you can troubleshoot them even better and make course corrections. Without the risk of failure, there is no growth.
  • Expect the unexpected as well as troubles so that you won’t be stressed by the surprise of it all.

Advocacy: the ability to influence, champion, articulate, inspire, and enlist others to do the right thing at all levels.

This competency means that in whatever area you work, a leader needs to understand what is required of everyone involved in order to bring about the right outcome. Being an advocate is like being an orchestra conductor. . . you need to understand and appreciate the influence of all the roles, AND what it takes for each role to be doing the right thing. In this sense, advocacy is not just speaking up for one group or function, it is promoting the best outcome for the interaction of the whole.

  • How well do you understand the contributions that all functions bring to the table?
  • Take steps to identify the interaction of areas that may be experiencing friction.
  • Make sure that you are positively viewed by other departments. Do they see you as someone who is interested in understanding their points of view and issues? Do you speak up for anyone who may need help and a voice in the big outcome?

Engagement: the ability to actively apply values of caring and respect, along with skills of communicating warmth and genuine interest in others, to promote trust with individuals and teams.

  • Do you need to brush up or improve your interpersonal skills?
  • Be sure that you are able to connect with others in your organization who have different styles, perspectives, approaches and values. This is sometimes quite difficult, but mastering this ability is a hallmark of an effective leader.
  • Do you seek to meet and understand people in your work as people first and workers second? There is a role for the social niceties in the workplace because it helps us all connect at the people level first. Leading out with questions and comments about other’s lives shows that you are approachable and interested; building a foundation of trust.
  • Help keep others excited about their work. Are you able to help them view their work from the perspective of meaning and purpose, not just the tasks to be accomplished?

Executive Presence: the ability to engage, connect and influence others.

This competency requires that you understand your effect on others, and are able to monitor and modify your own behavior so that the effect promotes the main purpose of your role. Influencing others in a positive direction is possible when you are seen as trustworthy, interested in people, respectful, and appreciative of the contributions that everyone makes. It is important to remember that you are always “ON”, and in the service of achieving your highest priorities.

Minding the Gap: The ability to recognize and attend to the dynamic tension between innovation and the untested with high reliability and a preoccupation with failure.

  • Ask yourself where are things likely to go wrong and break down.
  • How can you anticipate an issue before things break down? Are there signals and ‘red flags’ that you should be aware of?
  • What do others say about how an innovation is working? Seek others’ opinions about problems. . .Strive to understand what you may not be seeing.

The five competencies described above will help to frame the Resilient Nurse Leader coaching series. But just as the competencies can be applied to many industries, coaching too has benefits in all settings. Having a coach provides that safe place and objective thought partner to help you refine and develop the leadership skills that you need in your own setting. For a short inspirational TED talk about the value of coaching, watch Dr. Atul Gawande’s presentation here:

Thunderbird Leadership Consulting provides coaching services (Executive/Leader Coaching, Team Coaching, and the Resilient Nurse Leader coaching series) for people and organizations that seek to maximize talent resources. For more information, visit our website at, or If you prefer, send us an email at

Jill Bachman, MSN