Leadership in nursing has been an increasingly relevant topic, as the industry continues to rapidly change during unprecedented challenges.
Nurses stand to make a significant impact in these times of complex and urgent change. With an increased focus on leveraging nurse leadership, refining your nursing leadership style is particularly important as you grow your nursing career.
Nurses make up the largest segment of the healthcare workforce — and while most nurses approach their careers with patient care in mind, many will unexpectedly transition into leadership roles. While traditional leadership models often follow a one-size-fits-all approach, nurses who understand how to tailor specific styles and apply them in certain situations will find success through adaptability.
Building upon this logic, nurse leaders with a solid understanding of their own leadership style will be more successful in influencing their team/unit, ultimately driving better patient care. However, having a foundational understanding of the most common types of leadership styles is beneficial starting point. The most recognized five nursing leadership styles are:
1. Transformational Nursing Leadership Style
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 Nursing Leadership Style
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 Nursing Leadership Style
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 Nursing Leadership Style
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 Nursing Leadership Style
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.
Take these courses to learn more about leadership:
How to Develop Your Leadership Potential
(1.5 contact hours)
The goal of this course is to provide nurses with practical strategies to help them establish customized plans for developing their leadership potential. After taking this course, you should be able to: Discuss why it is important for nurses to develop leadership potential, identify effective nurse leadership styles and characteristics, and describe ways to develop leadership characteristics.
(1 contact hour)
Transformational leadership has been shown to be particularly effective in turbulent and uncertain environments, such as those found in today’s healthcare organizations. This module explains what transformational leadership is, why transformational leadership is a key part of Magnet nursing organizations, and how it can promote work satisfaction among nurses and improve care for patients.
Evidence-Based Effective Nursing Leadership: Check Your Practice
(1 contact hour)
Rarely do nurse leaders consider that their leadership practice should also be evidence-based. The use of evidence-based practice helps leaders to make more effective leadership decisions based on research and knowledge rather than traditions, hunches, and the advice of colleagues, or outdated leadership information. In this module, we will examine five evidence-based strategies you should consider to improve your leadership effectiveness.