Every nurse leader and nurse executive knows the nurses within a healthcare organization are worth their weight in gold. The nursing staff (nursing assistants, LPNs, RNs and APRNs) is the lifeblood of any organization involved in the delivery of high-quality healthcare.

Since we can readily acknowledge that nurses are central to healthcare operations, what can a prudent nurse leader do in order to keep nurse employees feeling engaged and valued?

Listening comes first

There's an old saying that we have two ears and one mouth because we're supposed to listen twice as much as we talk. If every nurse leader and nurse executive took this advice to heart, many of the ills of the nursing profession could likely be transformed.

Nurse leaders who spend time asking powerful questions of their staff can truly have their finger on the pulse of the nursing team if they authentically listen to the responses elicited by their questions.

When policies, procedures and edicts come from the top without first being vetted by staff, there is room for trouble and push back. A nursing administration out of touch with the actual needs and thoughts of its staff will be roundly resented for blindly imposing even more regulations without valuable employee input.

Powerful nurse leadership begins with listening, and the leader who pays attention to what she or he hears is already ahead of the game.

Shared governance

When change is needed within a healthcare organization, many decisions must be made in order to bring that change to fruition. Changes made under a model of shared governance can deliver more buy-in from the nurses with boots on the ground.

Shared governance is a recognized model for group decision-making, and it has been utilized widely within the healthcare milieu.

In shared governance, the creation of unit-based practice councils is one method for assuring that change is initiated by those who know their practice best. When staff are able to participate in the change process, buy-in can be increased, and greater trust between staff and leadership is possible.

There is a great deal of nursing research on shared governance and the concept of buy-in, and savvy nurse leaders will consider the implications of the findings.

Enlightened nurse leadership

Enlightened nurse leadership rejects the notion that "we do it this way because this is the way it's always been done." Nurse leaders look beyond the ingrown habits of a healthcare organization, recognizing that organizational malaise can be overcome by forward-thinking leadership.

In response to present challenges, the enlightened nurse leader considers the past while also reading the writing on the wall as she or he looks to the future.

Accepted practices may be sufficient, but they may also be rooted in resistance to change and attachment to the past. The enlightened nurse leader sees through the veil of resistance while also being capable of accepting when current practices still hold value.


The value of mentoring can be easily overlooked when we consider onboarding, orientation, precepting, residencies and other initiatives that engage employees in organizational acculturation and the transfer of skills and knowledge.

According to Dr. Louise Jakubik of The Nurse Mentoring Institute, mentoring can be utilized in fostering employee engagement over time. Jakubik maintains that the evidence base exists for the lifelong engagement of nurses in a partnership between nurse mentors, nurse mentees and the organization by which they are employed.

Unlike orientation or precepting, mentoring involves loosely structured relationships that encourage nurses to explore their career goals, examine their fears and otherwise utilize the wise counsel of a nurse mentor for making prudent career choices. Mentoring can also help to groom staff nurses for future leadership — in essence filling the organization's "succession pipeline" to which Jakubik commonly refers.

Engagement is ongoing

Nurse employee engagement does not just occur during Nurses Week, orientation or residency. Employee engagement can be a process through which a healthcare organization invests in its nurses through active listening, shared decision-making and enlightened nurse leadership.

With the healthcare bottom line in mind, nurse employee retention is key. The avoidance of attrition is central to short- and long-term financial and operational goals of any healthcare organization. Mindful nurse employee engagement is smart healthcare business and smart nursing leadership.