5 Leadership Styles in Nursing

Today, nursing management is viewed as a profession of its own, requiring special training, skills, and characteristics (which typically come more naturally to some than others). As a fundamental component to drive a team’s motivation, performance, and job satisfaction, effective nurse management is of the utmost importance to hospitals and health systems. Building upon this logic, nurse managers with a solid understanding of their own nursing leadership style will be more successful in managing their team/unit, ultimately driving better patient care.

The most effective leadership styles in nursing management understand that both nursing staff and patients benefit from the unit acting as a team. Realizing that the success of the unit heavily relies on the strength of the nursing leader should implore nursing leaders to understand the different types of leadership styles in nursing management. Once a foundational understanding of the leadership styles in healthcare is established, nursing leaders can take personal inventory of how they fall into current styles, while also assessing which styles they might be more successful with in the future. The American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination (AANAC) recognizes the following five nursing leadership styles as:

1. Transformational Leadership in Nursing

Transformational leadership is a management style that motivates employees to take ownership for their roles and perform beyond expectations. Instead of assigning tasks from the top, transformational leadership teaches people how to think rather than just do what they are told. Sometimes called quiet leaders, they lead by example.

Pros of Transformational Leadership Style

Transformational leadership in nursing inspires and motivates employees to find better ways of achieving a goal, as these leaders excel at conflict resolution. They can mobilize people into groups that can get work done, raising the well-being, morale and motivation level of a group through excellent rapport.

Cons of Transformational Leadership Style

Transformational leadership in nursing may prove to be ineffective in initial stages of initiatives or ad-hoc situations. This type of leadership style requires an existing structure so that further development and growth can occur, meaning it’s not ideal for brand-new organizations.

2. Democratic Leadership in Nursing

The democratic leadership style welcomes and encourages input and communication from the team when making decisions. Relationships are highly valued by this type of leader, and it’s important to them that their team feels comfortable and willing to voice concerns, opinions, and ideas. A democratic leader also sees value in providing feedback to their team, truly viewing communication as a two-way street.

Pros of Democratic Leadership Style

Democratic leadership in nursing can work well to ensure the team feels valued and comfortable speaking up. High reliability organizations value transparency and input from team members with the most expertise, not necessarily seniority or highest rank, making this type of leader beneficial in creating a culture that promotes input from the entire team.

Cons of Democratic Leadership Style

Democratic leadership style in nursing can be detrimental to the team when a rapid response is required. In an environment where adverse events and emergencies occur, time is of the essence, and democratic leaders unable to make quick decisions independently and without input from the team might struggle to succeed.

3. Laissez-Faire Leadership in Nursing

Laissez-faire leadership in nursing is most often seen in new or inexperienced nurse leaders. Typically referred to as a “hands-off” approach, laissez-faire nursing leaders rarely provide direction or feedback to their team, but rather allow the team to function as they prefer, without strong supervision. These leaders are not thought of as strong decision makers.

Pros of Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

Because laissez-faire leadership in nursing does not micromanage or dictate how their team should function, a highly experienced and effective team may thrive under this type of leadership. This philosophy supports the theory that if something’s not broken, it doesn’t need to be fixed or changed, which a laissez-faire nursing leader wouldn’t take the initiative to do.

Cons of Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

Laissez-faire nursing isn’t necessarily a good fit for the healthcare industry, due to the constant state of change and need for quick decision making. With experienced nurses retiring and a surge in new nurse onboarding, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely that laissez-faire leadership in nursing will help the team succeed with being proactive vs. reactive to patient safety issues.

4. Autocratic Leadership in Nursing

As a stark contrast to the laissez-faire leadership style, autocratic leadership in nursing is extremely “hands on” and includes a great deal of decision making. Nursing leaders using the autocratic leadership style are comfortable making decisions without input from their team, and often withhold information from the team in general. This type of leader has little tolerance for mistakes.

Pros of Autocratic Leadership Style

Autocratic leadership in nursing will be effective in making quick decisions when necessary. This may serve the team well in emergency situations, or when implementing “zero occurrence” policies (e.g., driving for zero pressure ulcers, etc.).

Cons of Autocratic Leadership Style

Autocratic leadership in nursing does not promote trust or communication amongst a team, but instead creates a culture whereby team members’ valuable insights and knowledge go untapped. This type of leader stifles collaborative decision-making and transparency, which hinder an organization’s journey to high reliability.

5. Servant Leadership in Nursing

With a recent growth in popularity, servant leadership refers to leaders who influence and motivate others by building relationships and developing the skills of individual team members. Coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970, the term refers to leaders that are drawn to serve first, which aspires them to lead. Servant leadership in nursing implies that a leader naturally cares about ensuring each team member has the resources and tools they need to succeed.

Pros of Servant Leadership Style

Servant leadership in nursing can be extremely beneficial when leading a multidisciplinary, diverse team. Servant leaders excel at meeting the needs of individual team members, regardless of their roles, specialties, and resource requirements.

Cons of Servant Leadership Style

A poor-performing team may continue to suffer under the servant leadership style, when overall, collective direction and guidance for the team would better move the needle. Servant leadership in nursing is not recommended when top-down decisions must be made with the goal of quickly aligning the entire team.

5 Leadership Styles In Nursing

Interested in Learning More about Nursing Leadership?

As the national leader in holistic healthcare assessments, Relias Assessments empowers nurse leaders to leverage assessments to make informed hiring and placement decisions thereby helping them achieve better long-term nurse success, satisfaction, and retention. Assessment data helps nurse leaders identify developmental areas, continuously measure competencies, and cultivate future nurse leaders.

Additionally, CE Direct (known for its reputation as the leading provider in continuing education) offers a wealth of knowledge to nurse managers on management and leadership education, including:

  • 100+ courses specific to management and leadership training for nurses, such as Developing Your Leadership Potential and Coaching: An Essential Skill for Nurses.
  • Certification Review courses on nursing’s most popular topics to help nurse managers self-prepare for certification exams, prepare for recertification, and earn CE hours while improving knowledge.
  • Focused CE Series on Nursing Preceptor Specialty Practice to maximize nurses’ knowledge in precepting concepts. Topics include boundaries between preceptor and preceptee, critical thinking, time management, evaluation of competency, goal-writing, constructive feedback, patient/family engagement, HCAHPS, NDNQI, and more.
Alisha Cornell

Alisha Cornell, DNP, MSN, RN, is an experienced nurse leader, clinical consultant, and nurse informaticist, who understands the role of executive nurse leaders as well as the impact of healthcare on the lives of nurses. Her combination of formal education and lived experiences provides a platform of inspiring others through self-awareness and a purpose driven life. Her commitment to impacting the lives of nurses through servant leadership is driven by her history of managing dynamic nursing teams and conquering life one day at a time. She is a strong advocate for improving self-care among nurses, equal access to healthcare in underserved populations, and improving community health education concerning mental health and social determinants of health.

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