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Developing leaders: A shared responsibility

By: Patsy Maloney, EdD, RN, NPD-BC, NEA-BC, CEN, and Susan L. Bindon, DNP, RN, NPD-BC, CNE, CNE-cl

Take on challenges, seek support.

We have the opportunity to speak to new and novice nurses about professional development several times a year. Inevitably, when we ask them their definition of professional development, we get the same answer: crickets. They look away, shift in their seats, or busy themselves with notes, phones, and laptops. These nurses frequently are tired, sometimes stressed, and always trying to gain traction in their roles and identities as nurses; they don’t feel ready to think about their careers. So we talk about setting, meeting, and resetting professional goals. We talk in terms of what these new nurses would like to learn next, not what they want to do next. We discuss their current and future contributions and how they can create opportunities and build their confidence and competence. They listen carefully and ask pertinent questions, and they begin to see that professional development isn’t something one does later, but rather everything nurses do now and throughout their careers.

Professional development is part of every leader’s role. As lifelong leaders retire and enjoy some well-deserved rest, immediate need requires others to step up and step in. Leaders must keep nursing moving forward to hold our gains and to continue to break new ground in education and practice. All leaders must recognize talent in their colleagues, mentees, employees, and students, and provide opportunities for these future leaders to stretch and build their leadership muscles.

One approach is to apply the 70/20/10 principle for learning and development. The gist is that roughly 70% of learning and growth is the result of challenging, work-related assignments; 20% is attributed to learning from others; and 10% is the result of formal training. Nursing leaders can develop our most agile, thoughtful learners and innovators by challenging them with difficult projects and providing them with support and guidance to develop their own leadership skills and acumen. Emerging leaders should seek these challenges and a mentor to advise them as they tackle difficult projects. Reaching out and offering our experience and mentorship to future nurse leaders is the privilege and responsibility of all current leaders. Mentors are in the perfect position to encourage challenges, offer support, and stand by developing leaders when they experience failure.

Nurses come into practice having experienced success as students and may be risk averse (risk can harm patients and result in poor grades). This fear of failure can lead to reluctance to take on difficult managerial and leadership challenges. Bandura’s self-efficacy theory explains the importance of future leaders accepting challenging opportunities and even failing. He explains that no one learns mastery through easy experiences requiring minimal effort. Failure offers an opportunity to learn and grow professionally, which then leads to long-term leadership success. When every failure is treated as a learning opportunity, nurses build resilience and persistence and develop competence and confidence.

All nurses are leaders. The level of leadership may vary—bedside, team, unit, department, agency, or system—but nurse leaders must be willing to risk failure and seek challenges, and to find a mentor to support them along the way. As you develop as a leader, and you will, look to those around you. Volunteer to mentor and support them. Encourage them to take on challenges. Nursing has never needed fearless leaders more than now.

Patsy Maloney is president and Susan L. Bindon is president-elect of the Association for Nursing Professional Development, an organizational affiliate of the American Nurses Association.


Bandura A. An agentic perspective on positive psychology. In: Lopez SJ, ed. Positive Psychology: Exploring the Best in People. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers; 2008:167-96.

Lombardo MM, Eichinger RW. High potentials as high learners. Hum Resour Manage. 2001;39(4):321-9.

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