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Creating a Healthy



The global pandemic has strained health care delivery systems and the work-
force running them. Amid this landscape, nurse burnout has reached an

all-time high.1 Although the nursing shortage was already at crisis levels before
the pandemic, COVID-19 exacerbated the emotional exhaustion nurses faced,
contributing to what is now dubbed the “Great Resignation.”2 According to the
2022 NSI National Health Care Retention and RN Staffing Report, the regis-
tered nurse (RN) turnover rate increased by 8.4%, to an average of 27.1% in
2021, outpacing hospital turnover at 25.9% for the first time since the survey
was conducted.2 Moreover, a study of over 5000 nurses found that at least 11%
of nurses intended to leave the profession at the height of the pandemic, and
another 20% were undecided.2

With such a significant decline in nursing supply, it is clear the nursing short-
age cannot be resolved overnight. However, nurse leaders can start addressing
turnover by fostering healthy work environments and nurse well-being. Healthy
work environments share several important characteristics, defined by the
American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) as skilled communica-
tion, true collaboration, effective decision-making, appropriate staffing, authentic
leadership, and meaningful recognition.3 Organizations that demonstrate these

Danielle Gabele is Chief Nurse Executive, Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital,

300 Hillmont Ave, Ventura, CA 93003 ([email protected]).

Tina Cartwright is Senior Director–Nursing Excellence, Professional Development and Research, Stan-

ford Healthcare Tri-Valley, Pleasanton, California.

Faye Christen is Primary Nursing Care Director, LAC+USC Medical Center, Los Angeles, California.

Erica Martinez is Dean of Nursing, American Career College, Ontario, California.

Lindsay McKenzie is Nursing Director- Telemetry and Medical-Surgical Inpatient Units, Keck Hospital

of USC, Los Angeles, California.

Rachael Murray is Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego, California.

Staci Peavler is Director of Case Management, Stanford Health Care, Palo Alto, California.

Nancy Blake is Chief Nursing Officer, LAC+USC Medical Center, Los Angeles, California.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


Nancy Blake, PhD, RN, CCRN-K,



Department Editor

AACN Advanced Critical Care
Volume 34, Number 1, pp. 59-62

© 2023 AACN

Authentic Leadership: Pearls of Wisdom

Danielle Gabele, DNP, RN, CENP, CCRN-K

Tina Cartwright, DNP, MBA, BSN, RN, NE-BC

Faye Christen, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, CCRN-K

Erica Martinez, DNP, MSN, BSN, CCRN, NEA-BC

Lindsay McKenzie, MSN, MBA, RN, CCRN

Rachael Murray, MSN, NP, RN

Staci Peavler, MSN, BS, RN, ACM, CMAC




attributes experience greater employee engage-
ment and lower turnover.4

By implementing authentic leadership, nurse
leaders have the greatest impact on healthy
work environments. Authentic nurse leaders
create supportive work environments that
decrease staff turnover, promote emotional
well-being, and have been associated with bet-
ter nurse satisfaction and patient outcomes.
But what is authentic leadership, and how can
nurse leaders embed this style into their prac-
tice? This column aims to define authentic
nurse leadership and provide practical tips
for implementing this leadership style.

Authentic Leadership
The concept of authentic leadership arose

and evolved over the past 20 years in response
to several business scandals that highlighted
the poor outcomes of arrogant leaders.5 Today,
authentic leadership encapsulates leaders who
empower others and create a sense of purpose
and optimism. It is a style in which the leader
acts in a way that supports their personal val-
ues.6 A nurse leadership model developed by
Giordano-Mulligan and Eckardt7 conceptual-
izes leader caring and other attributes, differ-
entiating authentic leadership in the context
of the nursing profession. Authentic nurse
leadership comprises 5 key attributes: moral-
ethical perspective, self-awareness, relational
integrity, shared decision-making, and caring.6
The authentic nurse leader’s alignment of per-
sonal and organizational values cultivates credi-
bility, trust, and respect. Leaders who possess
self-awareness have a greater understanding
of their strengths and vulnerabilities. They have
a strong moral foundation that allows them
to act in ways that support their core values.
Authentic nurse leaders build connections and
communication styles that promote psycho-
logical safety, facilitating a culture of open
ideas. In health care systems, nurse leaders are
often overwhelmed with responsibilities and
tasks that take time away from developing
authentic leadership styles. However, with some
practice, nurse leaders can use the following
skills to promote authentic leadership at work.

Tips on Providing Authentic
To Thine Own Self Be True

Authentic nurse leaders know their values,
beliefs, and morals. They know where they stand
on critical issues and are true to themselves

with their actions and decisions. Take the time
to perform a personal inventory. Act with cour-
age and confidence when it is most needed.
Articulate what is important to you and what
is nonnegotiable in your work environment.
These values should be transparent and com-
municated to your team members.

Do As I Say and Do As I Do
Authentic nurse leaders walk the walk and

talk the talk. They do not just tell staff what to
do and why to do it. They model the behavior
themselves and have a vision. Consider a leader
who tells you how important it is to perform
hourly rounds on patients. If that leader never
leaves her office, her credibility in asking for
this is diminished. Authentic leaders regularly
highlight the importance of hourly rounding
and model it.

Listen More Than You Speak
One of the critical authentic leadership attri-

butes is openness. When talking to staff, nurse
leaders should practice active-listening skills.
Active listening means hearing verbal messages
and being aware of nonverbal cues and sig-
nals. For example, a new graduate nurse may
tell the leader about her excitement about
meeting her preceptor in the first week but 2
weeks later begins to avoid eye contact and
give one-word answers when asked if the pre-
ceptor has been a good teacher. Authentic lead-
ers also listen without distraction, meaning they
are present with staff in the moment and avoid
interruptions. This means avoiding multitask-
ing and putting away the cell phone when
speaking to an employee.

Know Your Team
Nurse leaders already understand the clini-

cal strengths and weaknesses of team members.
However, this is not the only information
valuable to the authentic leader. Authentic lead-
ers take the time to get to know team members
more personally. Whether that means knowing
which team member plays flag football or
aspires to be a nurse educator, get to know
what motivates your team. Doing so helps to
build trust.

Be Vulnerable
Authentic leaders do not just expect their

team members to share personal information
without sharing it themselves. Nurses want
to see their leaders as real people too. Talk



about your family, where you like to travel,
or your future career aspirations. Tell your
team members honestly when you have made
a mistake and express remorse if you uninten-
tionally hurt someone. These practices help
others see you as genuine.

Take Office Hours Out of the Office
Gone are the days when nurse leaders sit

in offices and wait for staff to come to them.
Authentic leaders create opportunities to meet
staff where they are at the point of care. Con-
sider setting aside time to shadow frontline
nurses and observe their workflows. Round
on your team members just as you would on
patients. These encounters often lead organi-
cally to conversations about workflows and
engender trust between leader and employee.
Often, employees take this time to share sug-
gestions for improving the work environment
with the leader or request additional resources.

Show You Care for Yourself as
You Care for Others

The idea that nurse leaders must be avail-
able 24/7 has, at best, created a culture that
self-care in leadership should not exist. At
worst, it may create a culture that self-care
in nursing should not exist. Nurse leaders
who take time to refuel through well-being
activities are better positioned to support
their teams, normalize self-care, and encour-
age staff to prioritize their own well-being.
Compassion, empathy, and awareness of your
needs are foundational in caring for others.
Plan for time off. Be open about when you
are unavailable and who will be the point
of contact so you can enjoy uninterrupted
time to re-energize and be present.

Say Thank You Early and Often
During the pandemic, nurses were thanked

profusely by their leaders and the general pub-
lic, who had coined them health care heroes.
As time passes, generic thank you messages
become less impactful. Authentic leaders dole
out personal, targeted messages of gratitude
that address specific instances. For example,
a nurse leader rounding on patients hears
one nurse’s name repeatedly mentioned for
his compassionate nature. The authentic nurse
leader may then write a thank you note directly
to this nurse giving thanks for great care and
may also recognize the nurse in a monthly
staff meeting.

Celebrate Even the Smallest

In these challenging times, clinical outcomes
may not mirror prepandemic levels. But some-
times, even preventing a further decline in out-
comes is worthy of celebration. Don’t wait
until you achieve a national benchmark to cel-
ebrate success. Let’s say your telemetry unit
has been experiencing a high rate of falls, dou-
ble the national average. In the past month,
your rate has stayed higher than benchmarks,
but you replaced 2 falls with injury with 2
witnessed falls. Congratulations! That is a
success, and authentic leaders take the time
to celebrate these small milestones with
their teams.

Empower, Empower, Empower
Authentic leaders share decision-making.

They look for opportunities to give staff a
voice, whether that be in a robust shared-
governance model or an employee open forum.
Create chances for nurses to speak up and
tell you what they need. When nurses come
to you with problems, do not send them away
until they have a solution. Work with them
to brainstorm suggestions or connect them
with resources who can help. Empowering
your team members gives them the confidence
to make their own decisions and makes them
feel their suggestions are considered.

Know That the Journey Never Ends
Authentic nurse leaders understand they are

not perfect. Authentic leadership is a journey of
self-discovery and self-awareness. The journey
of self-improvement should not end. Rather,
authentic leaders seek out opportunities to
improve themselves. Be transparent about your
opportunities and tell your team how you plan
to improve. The ability to learn and self-reflect
is the hallmark of an authentic leader.

Authentic nurse leadership is a distinct style

that focuses on openness, honesty, and trust.
Although the suggestions here do not address
all aspects of this type of leadership, they do
provide a start on changes you can make to
become a more authentic leader. Authentic
nurse leaders lead from the heart and practice
what they preach. They create healthier envi-
ronments for their teams and themselves. Do
not get caught up in the details of this leader-
ship style. Just remember what Oscar Wilde



once said: “Be yourself. Everyone else is already
taken.”8 If you can adapt your style to include
some of these characteristics, you can expect
improved morale, decreased turnover, and
greater employee satisfaction.

1. Blake, N. Caring for the caregivers during the Covid-19

pandemic. AACN Adv Crit Care. 2020; 31(4): 416-418.

2. NSI Nursing Solutions. 2022 NSI National health care
retention and RN staffing report. Published March 2022.
Accessed September 30, 2022. https://www.nsinursing-

3. American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. AACN
Standards for Establishing and Sustaining Healthy Work

Environments: A Journey to Excellence. 2nd ed.
AACN; 2016.

4. Raso R, Fitzpatrick JJ, Masick K. Nurses’ intent to leave
their position and the profession during the COVID-19
pandemic. J Nurs Adm. 2021;51(10):488-494. doi:10.1097/

5. Kester K, Pena H, Shuford C, et al. Implementing AACN’s
Healthy Work Environment framework in an intensive
care unit. Am J Crit Care. 2021;30(6):426-433. doi:10.4037/

6. Raso R. Be you! Authentic leadership. Nurs Manage.
2019;50(5):18-25. doi:10.1097/01.

7. Giordano-Mulligan M, Eckardt S. Authentic nurse lead-
ership conceptual framework: nurses’ perception of
authentic nurse leader attributes. Nurs Adm Q. 2019;
43(2):164-174. doi:10.1097/NAQ.0000000000000344

8. Wilde O. Thoughts on the business of life. ForbesQuotes.
Accessed October 11, 2022.

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