While many people enter nursing because they want to help people in a clinical setting, a career in management can be just as rewarding, says K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC. A veteran with more than 25 years of service at Cleveland Clinic, Hancock oversees a team of nearly 26,000 nursing caregivers as the organization’s executive chief nursing officer.
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Through management, nurses can have much greater influence. “I often get asked whether I miss providing clinical care,” she says. “Of course that’s what called me into nursing, but now I provide care in a different way, through leadership.”
Hancock offers these tips for nurses who want to move into management.
Even if you know you’re headed for the board room, it’s a good idea to start with hands-on patient care. “It really gives you a better understanding of the operational pieces, particularly in nursing, but in the rest of the organization as well,” Hancock says.
Once you get that first promotion and are given the opportunity to take on more leadership, don’t worry too much about climbing the ladder, but focus instead on doing your best in the job you have. “The rest will fall into place naturally,” she says.
Especially if you know you want to move into management, Hancock encourages nurses to partner with a leader who can give guidance and advice. Sit down early on to discuss your professional goals and create a plan for reaching them, then have regular check-ins to talk about your progress. And a mentor doesn’t have to be a direct supervisor. Hancock encourages nurses to look outside their departments or even beyond their organizations for coaching. “It can give you a more well-rounded perspective and help you look at things differently,” she says.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what managers do and how to lead well. To get a better feel for the job, and to figure out if it’s right for you, Hancock suggests spending time job-shadowing nurses in management. “One day is very different from the next,” she says. “I think people are often surprised by how complex it is, because of how many things you’re dealing with at any given time.”
As she moved up in management, Hancock decided to pursue her master’s degree and eventually her doctorate. No matter the program, higher education exposes nurses to new ideas, diverse perspectives, and a wide network of colleagues. “It gives you a much larger portfolio of experiences that will better prepare you to lead in this dynamic environment,” she says.
New leaders often have a hard time delegating, and assume the responsibility of solving everybody’s problem, she says. That’s a mistake. “You bear such a burden, and it can be so overwhelming, that that fulfillment piece is lost, and you can’t be effective.”
Ask yourself: why do I want to lead? “Is it mission driven?” she asks. “You have to do it because you want to help healthcare grow and you want to influence people to help them develop in their careers.” The most common mistake Hancock sees is nurses seeking promotion because they think they will make more money. In reality, management can be challenging, but the reward comes in growing professionally, being in a position to effect change in the organization, and helping others succeed, she says. “Often,” she says, “it reignites that passion you had.”
Learn about Cleveland Clinic’s transformational leadership development programs, available through Global Executive Education.