Strategic Thinking: A Nurse's Skill

A professional nurse is many things: diligent, communicative, unflinching in her standards of professionalism; empathic, detail-oriented, quick-thinking. Effective nurses think strategically, aware of the long view even as they are laser-focused on the details.

Whether helping patients, improving workplace logistics, or ensuring that decisions align with long-range goals, nurses are strategic thinkers by nature, skilled at holding a sharp-eyed view of the future while embracing processes that propel their organization in the right direction as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Strategic thinkers use both sides of their brains — logical left and creative right — and develop both purpose and process to their professions. Lifelong learners, they are aware and perceptive, weaving flexibility into their workflow even as they clearly define its objectives. They understand the importance of taking care of themselves, and aren’t afraid to ask for help. They’re hard-working and honest. Sound like anyone you know?

Many of the qualities that describe an effective nurse are the same that define a powerful board member.

“Competency” is defined as the capability to apply a set of related knowledge, skills, and abilities required to successfully perform critical work functions. For nurses who are natural strategic thinkers, these competencies include the abilities to:

·       anticipate change
Strategic thinkers must be able to clearly identify threats and opportunities to their organization and be proactive and realistic in addressing them.

·       challenge assumptions
Strategic thinkers must be willing to evaluate the status quo and, where it’s appropriate, to embrace it, fine-tune it, or reject it and propose something new.

·       interpret the environment
Strategic thinkers must be able to discern patterns that point to stagnation or change. They aren’t intimidated by data, and can recognize emerging needs long before they arrive.

·       make tough, timely decisions
Many organizations err by not moving quickly enough; strategic thinkers know that decisions must be made at the right moment and for the right purpose.

·       align stakeholders
Strategic thinkers find common ground with everyone involved with the organization and help them prepare for change. Truth-telling is key.

·       look for lessons learned
Because they are continuous learners, strategic thinkers can honestly reflect on their own actions and decisions to become better at the next one.


Look over that list. Where in your everyday student responsibilities can you find those competencies in yourself? Which do you recognize? The more of them you can identify, the better qualified you are. Don’t sell yourself short: Strategic thinking is strategic thinking, no matter where it’s applied.

Adapted from an article by Colin Berry

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