Different Nursing Leadership Styles

In the nursing profession, a nurse manager's personal style of leadership impacts multiple aspects of a healthcare facility's operations and can have far-reaching implications. This piece will define and discuss several different styles of nursing leadership. Specialties Management Article


Different Nursing Leadership Styles

The manner in which a nurse manager executes leadership over his / her staff has repercussions that can result in far-reaching effects on the operations of a particular healthcare organization. A manager's personal style of leadership has a significant impact on important workplace aspects such as employee attrition, turnover rates, morale, feedback, teamwork and productivity. Nursing leadership styles also influence the perception of of patient care indirectly because disillusioned staff nurses might not be able to hide their negative sentiments in the presence of patients and family members. Keep reading to learn about several different styles of leadership.

Autocratic Leadership

The autocratic style of leadership typically involves a leader or nurse manager who makes all pertinent decisions, gives specific orders, and issues directives to subordinate employees who must obey under watchful supervision. Autocratic leaders strongly discourage workers from questioning the validity of any directives. The autocratic style of leadership is appropriate for workplaces such as jails, prisons, the military, and highly structured settings with routinized operations because, in these places, the lives of masses of people completely hinge on workers following very specific orders step by step. In addition, this leadership style is favorable for the completion of simple tasks.

Democratic Leadership

The democratic leadership style facilitates enhanced participation from subordinate employees in the organization's decision-making process. Even though the democratic leader has the final say, he / she gathers information, ideas and feedback from staff prior to finalizing the very decisions that will affect them. This is a highly effective style of leadership since employees are more likely to put forth outstanding effort when they feel valued. Workers feel valued when their input is an integral part of an organization's decision-making process. Democratic leadership thrives in healthcare settings due to the varied skill sets and educational backgrounds of employees. Conversely, this leadership style does have drawbacks. For instance, soliciting everyone's input is time-consuming. Moreover, the aggressive staff members always provide feedback while the timid employees may never get the chance to make suggestions or offer input.

Visionary Leadership

The visionary style of leadership involves a charismatic leader who motivates people to pursue a common vision by providing guidance on where to go and what to do without the autocratic step-by-step directions on how to get there. This leadership style pushes employees to action by encouraging them to take strides toward the overall goals of the organization. The typical visionary leader exchanges information freely to arm subordinates with the knowledge they will need to succeed. The visionary style works ideally when the healthcare facility is in need of a new direction.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership is a method of leading in which, through routine transactions such as rewards and punishments, tasks are completed. It is based on transactions conducted between the nurse manager and subordinate staff because it is grounded on the theory that workers are motivated solely by rewards and discipline. A transactional leader normally does not look to the future in managing an organization; rather, these managers are simply focused on ensuring that everything operates well today. The focal points of transactional leadership include an authoritative leader who rewards compliant staff with pay increases and punishes with progressive discipline.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership focuses on encouraging staff members to do their very best work by way of example through the sheer influence of the nurse leader's optimistic personality. This style of leadership operates on the idea that employees receive motivation to perform well through positive, rather than negative, incentives. The main traits of transformational leadership include an inspiring nurse leader who encourages team building, creativity and innovation to transform the staff to accomplish the goals of the organization. This style works well because it instills self-motivation. Self-motivated employees will want to do their jobs without the lure of rewards or the force of discipline. However, this leadership style can flop miserably if the nurse manager lacks the personality traits or energy to bring out the best in employees.

Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-Faire leadership is a hands-off style of leading that allows employees the freedom to work on their own with little or no guidance. These nurse leaders give minimal direction and permit subordinate employees to have virtually unlimited leeway to do what they want. Authority is invested in the employees and they are responsible for formulating their own decisions, devising their own goals and resolving any problems that might arise. Laissez-Faire leadership is effective when leading a staff of motivated, well-educated, highly skilled, self-directed employees who have many years of experience. A truly effective Laissez-Faire leader will offer feedback and input as needed. This leadership style must not be utilized with unmotivated workers, employees who lack time management, and new grads or novices who are unskilled and inexperienced.

TheCommuter, BSN, RN, CRRN is a longtime physical rehabilitation nurse who has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a Registered Nurse.

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This is interesting. I guess there are tests given to nurses to assess their leadership styles.

Specializes in Critical Care, Education.

These are the classic "styles" one learns in leadership courses. However, I believe that there is one missing from the list: Situational Leadership. This manager knows how to adapt her/his approach to fit the situation. For instance, an appropriate response to deal with a deliberate violation of policy would be 'authoritarian' because there is no gray area and a punitive response is needed. On the other hand, if a staff member violates a policy due to lack of knowledge, a softer 'transactional' style would be more effective - clarifying the rules, and expressing confidence that s/he would not make the same mistake again.

At any rate, we need ooodles more education and training to prepare nurses to become effective leaders..... Thanks for your contribution TheCommuter!!

Specializes in Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych.
These are the classic "styles" one learns in leadership courses. However, I believe that there is one missing from the list: Situational Leadership. This manager knows how to adapt her/his approach to fit the situation.
Darn. . .I knew I was missing a couple of important leadership styles! I will probably write something on situational leadership in the coming weeks. :)

Very helpful! Thank you! :)

Specializes in nursing education.

Complexity leadership needs to be on the list too! It's well-suited to healthcare and its constant change.