CNO Roundtable 2022

Rookie Mistakes and Pro Tips for Nurse Leaders

Doing too much, not asking for help, and not treating the team as individuals

What are some common mistakes you see from new nurse leaders, and what are some effective ways for managers to build a strong team?

Elizabeth Adams, Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center

Too often, nurse leaders feel compelled to make changes early on, either due to internal pressure or an eagerness to implement their ideas. When making changes, it is important to listen, encourage feedback and partner with teams to achieve “buy-in.”

Another common leadership gap is failing to demonstrate emotional intelligence, either by overreacting or not being thoughtful in decision-making. The best way to build a strong team is to demonstrate that you care about your team as individuals.

Be clear about goals and expectations and encourage innovation and creativity. Monitor and measure outcomes in partnership, and celebrate what is right. Too often in healthcare, we diagnose what is wrong and forget to focus on the wins.


Lori Burnell, Valley Presbyterian Hospital

One of the ways we build group cohesion is by having a 15-minute safety huddle at 9 a.m. every morning. The agenda provides opportunities to identify potential high-risk areas and share both near misses and great catches. These huddles help to celebrate our leadership team’s moments of excellence and reaffirm our respect for safety, which should always be a top priority.


Anita Girard, Cedars-Sinai

Nurse leaders sometimes make the mistake of shying away from dealing with bullying behavior and lateral violence. Teamwork and trust in leadership are so quickly eroded in a hostile work environment. It is important to set clear guidelines for professional behavior. The best way to build a strong team is to set a clear vision and provide a strong organizational structure with well-defined roles so the team knows how to get things done and be successful each day.


Karen A. Grimley, UCLA Health/UCLA School of Nursing

A common mistake new leaders make is thinking that because they are in charge, they must do or touch everything. Sometimes, this is due to the excitement of the new role; other times, it may be due to an unspoken expectation they believe their supervisors or new staff have of them.

My advice to new leaders is to assume nothing. If you are unclear or something is new to you, never be embarrassed to ask. This becomes especially important as you take on more senior roles in an organization. Know yourself, know your strengths, and be willing to acknowledge what you might not be good at — and when you are tired. Ask the hard questions and involve your team in solving problems and crafting solutions.


Ceonne Houston-Raasikh, PIH Health Downey Hospital

A common mistake is thinking you need to give each team member equal amounts of time. On the surface, that seems like the fair thing to do, but the reality is that some people on the team simply need more development than others — and those individuals should get more of your time. It’s important to recognize each team member’s strengths and weaknesses and then invest the time necessary for their development.

Hiring Now


Evelyn Ku, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital

Leaders should always recognize staff and reward their efforts and contributions — not just their results. Staff should feel they are part of the future, and know that what they do every day is meaningful. Give kudos to staff who are willing to take risks, step out of their comfort zones and accept more responsibility because they want to contribute to the greater good.


Joyce Leido, Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center

The most common mistake new nurse leaders make is not asking for guidance or help when they need it out of concern that others will question their abilities, skills and competence. Having the self-awareness to know you need support and ask for it is a strength. Ask another leader to be someone you can call on if you need to “phone a friend.” It’s never too early or too late to find someone who can be that for you.

Determine the strengths of each team member and work with them to develop those strengths without losing sight of any areas of opportunity. It helps if there’s also a focus on building trust. If team members feel confident that their success is important to you, they will be motivated to perform at a high level.


Jinhee Nguyen, Adventist Health Glendale

A common mistake is inadequate communication with the team. Communication is essential in everything we do. Being an effective leader means knowing what to communicate, how often to communicate, what methods to use to communicate, etc. Open lines of communication enable nurse leaders to create relationships, set expectations and build alignment.

The single best thing a nurse leader can do to build a strong team is to provide a safe environment that promotes trust, respect and collaboration. Our most successful and engaged nursing units are those that foster strong bonds and take care of each other. When a team member calls out or feels overburdened, another steps up. Creating such an environment makes for a strong team, and you see it in the quality indicators.


Tanya Osborne-McKenzie, MLK Community Healthcare

A common mistake of novice nurse leaders is believing you need to know everything and have to do everything. Believing either or both of those things will cause unnecessary stress. Bring in your team and use their strengths to help achieve your goals.


Chiarina Piazza, West Coast University

To build a strong team, a nurse leader must be willing to be part of it. That means nurse leaders should wake up each day with the desire and ability to lead themselves before ever attempting to lead others on their team.

Nursing Education


Ramona Pratt, PIH Health Whittier Hospital

The most common mistake I see is not prioritizing staffing. Sometimes, new leaders fear over-hiring, but with experience, you come to understand that shortages are more common than surplus, and much more challenging to manage from a patient care perspective. Once a manager loses focus on position control, it is very difficult to get back to a correct staffing plan.

The best thing you can do to build a strong team is to hire and promote for positive attitude. Individuals don’t have to be experts in all skills — skills can be developed over time, but positive attitudes help build collegiality, which helps us all provide excellent care.


Gloria Sanchez-Rico, Huntington Hospital

It is common for new leaders to want to make everyone happy all the time. What I learned early on is that rather than focusing on pleasing everyone, you should concentrate on being present, consistent, caring and fair at all times. As trust develops, your team will respond positively, feel safe and have a sense of belonging.

The best thing a nurse leader can do to build a strong team is to build trust through leading by example, assuring your team that you have their best interests at heart and investing in their growth. Everyone has their own goals and dreams, and brings their own perspective to the organization.


Darlene Scafiddi, Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center

Effective listening is one of the most critical skills a nurse leader can have. It benefits both their team and their organization. When you are actively present and genuine in listening to the needs of your team, they’ll feel valued and respected, have improved job satisfaction and be more engaged. Take time to listen — you’ll be glad you did.


Linda Soubirous, Loma Linda University Medical Center – Murrieta

Leaders can grow a strong team by being visible and present as they round, which gives staff the chance to present feedback and enables the leader to address issues and close the communication gap. If staff feel their voices are heard and the leader listens to and acts on their feedback, that builds trust. It’s also important for leaders to keep the team updated on all requests.


Lauren Spilsbury, Redlands Community Hospital

A common mistake new nurse leaders make is treating all staff the same in an effort to be fair and impartial. Treating all staff as unique individuals with differing needs and desires is essential to good leadership. One individual may need frequent connection and support that another would find off-putting.

The nurse leader should get to know their staff and see what motivates them in order to help guide their careers and create a positive work environment.


Sarah Stevens, California Rehabilitation Institute

A common mistake is not following up with staff and ensuring that questions or concerns have been addressed. If something is important to a member of the team, recognize it and address it.


Annette Sy, Keck Medicine of USC

Too many times, I have seen new nurse leaders try to be everything for everyone. They put in long hours and don’t delegate enough. Successful nurse leaders have a healthy work-life balance, know the strengths of their team members, delegate when needed, and set realistic timelines and goals for themselves.

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