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12 Leadership Models That Can Define Your Style

healthcare professionals listening to a presentation

If you’re a working adult, you have most likely experienced good and bad bosses. From the manager who offers encouragement and support, to the supervisor who criticizes your every move while micromanaging each project, leadership comes in many forms.

When you find yourself on a career advancement track with growing managerial responsibilities, defining your identity as a leader can be a valuable process. Similarly, identifying a colleague’s leadership model can give you more insight on how to successfully work together.

In this post, we explore the concept of leadership models, discuss the unique application of these models in healthcare management, and examine 12 common styles that you may have encountered in the workplace. You can jump to our visual to see which famous leaders match each style so you can gain inspiration from their methods.

Defining Leadership at Work

“True leadership is the ability to influence people to achieve a better result for an organization or group,” says career coach Kathleen Brady. ((Kathleen Brady, “Leadership in Today’s Workplace,” Training, March 5, 2014:  In the workplace, a leader’s influence can be reflected in employee happiness, a healthy bottom line, a culture of innovation, positive social change, and more. For example, data shows that 70% of workforce engagement, defined as the level of commitment and connection an employee has with their workplace, is influenced by managers. ((Vibhas Ratanjee, “Why Managers Need Leadership Development Too,” Gallup, Jan. 15, 2021:

Leadership opportunities are not reserved for the executive suite. Leaders and managers exist at every level of an organization, from staff who steer small departmental projects to those who oversee massive global endeavors. ((Kevin Kruse, “What Is Leadership?” Forbes, April 9, 2013: It’s smart to prepare for your next leadership opportunity by understanding the leadership model that works best for you.

What Is a Leadership Model?

A leadership model is a theoretical framework for how best to manage employees. It typically suggests a corresponding response style to employee and organizational needs that has proven useful in that model. ((Tyler Lacoma, “What Is a Business Leadership Model?” BizFluent, Updated Sept. 26, 2017:

Leadership models provide a useful structure for defining the management methods that fit your work style and personality. Knowing your personal approach to leadership—both where it comes from and where you want to go with it—creates a standard from which you can make adjustments and improvements to maximize your efficacy and impact. Leadership models don’t exist in a vacuum; however, you may pull elements from more than one model, or you may shift among models over time or in different settings.

Although leadership models are similar to leadership styles, these are two separate concepts. While the model serves as the conceptual structure to explain what makes a leader great, the style represents the pattern of leadership behaviors they exhibit in pursuit of that greatness.  ((Tanya Robertson, “Leadership Theory vs. Leadership Style,” Houston Chronicle, n.d.:

12 Types of Leadership Models ((Victor F. Trastek et al., “Leadership Models in Healthcare—A Case for Servant Leadership,” Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Feb. 3, 2014:, ((Sergio Caredda, “Leadership Models: The Theory and the Practice,”, last updated Nov. 26, 2020:, ((K.B. Samarakoon, “Leadership Styles in Healthcare,” International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Vol. 9, Iss. 9, Sept. 2019:, ((Bruna Martinuzzi, “The 7 Most Common Leadership Styles (and How to Find Your Own),” American Express, Oct. 16, 2019:

Although philosophers have examined the concept of leadership at least since the times of Julius Caesar, leadership models are a continually evolving network of modern theories and behavioral structures. ((Thaddeus Hunt and Lavonne Fedynich, “Leadership: Past, Present, and Future: An Evolution of an Idea,” Journal of Art & Humanities, Feb. 2019:

1. Transformational

Integrity and vision are core qualities of transformational leaders. As a transformational leader, you will achieve your goals through open lines of communication with staff, demonstrating your integrity and the respect you hold for your staff’s experience and knowledge. This mutual respect leads to gains in staff satisfaction and employee retention, both shown to improve overall patient care and safety. ((Hongyun Tian et al., “The Impact of Transformational Leadership on Employee Retention: Mediation and Moderation Through Organizational Citizenship Behavior and Communication,” Frontiers in Psychology, 2020:

Once you present your vision for a project, you will need to motivate others to make it reality. However, you risk ignoring the needs of individual staff members in pursuit of fulfilling your grander mission.

2. Transactional

Transactional leadership is a straightforward rewards-based model. It works off the concept that an employee’s personal interests (as opposed to company interests) are the principal factors motivating them to complete an assigned task or reach a performance level. If you’re a transactional leader, you will set performance goals for staff, promise a reward, and provide that reward upon their successful completion of the goal—or impose a consequence if staff don’t meet their goals. This method of leadership can be very effective for getting work done, but it fails to allow space for building relationships at work and inspiring staff to contribute new ideas.

The transactional model is one of the most prominently utilized in the medical industry. It can be a useful approach for establishing and meeting short-term objectives, such as completing specific tasks, achieving quantifiable patient satisfaction goals, and successfully following all safety protocols. ((DF Sfantou et al., “Importance of Leadership Style towards Quality of Care Measures in Healthcare Settings: A Systematic Review,” Healthcare, October 14, 2017:

3. Servant

As a servant leader, you will mix selflessness with a focus on the higher needs of others as staff work toward achieving your vision. Through self-reflection and awareness, you gain insight into your own purpose in life and work, the meaning of their leadership initiatives, and your personal character. By mentoring your staff, you are able to lift up others to greater success, improving morale and the business.

The interdisciplinary nature of healthcare requires a range of professionals to work as a team. This aligns with the servant leader’s desire to work collaboratively and elevate team members, all in service of improving patient care.

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4. Autocratic

Autocratic leaders do not consult with or consider the opinions of others when making decisions. You determine a course of action and relay your ideas with full expectation that staff will complete your assigned actions without question. This method of leadership works well in situations requiring quick decision making.

The ability for doctors, nurses, and other high-level healthcare professionals to make snap decisions in times of emergency is critical to saving lives. But the autocratic leader should also be mindful that employees and patients may be left feeling invisible, neglected, and potentially even abused if they are treated in ways that disregard their needs.

5. Democratic

The opposite of autocratic leadership is democratic leadership, also known as “participative leadership.” As a democratic leader, you will seek out the input and perspectives of your staff, although the final decision belongs to you. Your use of collaboration and discussion can spark an increase in creativity and innovation. However, you may feel challenged in situations where you must juggle many diverse perspectives and ideas.

Some leadership decisions in healthcare require staff input and brainstorming to develop a creative solution to an ongoing challenge. The democratic leadership model helps greatly to encourage employee participation in thinking outside of the box.

6. Laissez-Faire

The phrase “laissez-faire” translates literally from the French as “allow to do.” ((Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Laissez-faire,” last updated March 2, 2021:  It represents a political, economic, and leadership model that involves passivity. If you are a laissez-faire leader, you will provide the tools your employees need and then step back to allow the staff to work everything else out. This hands-off approach represents a deep level of trust.

By abdicating responsibility for the decision-making process, laissez-faire leaders risk the situation spiraling into chaos without proper organizational structures in place to guide the company’s direction. In healthcare environments, laissez-faire is usually a poor approach, given the potential for negativity and discord brought on by the lack of structured leadership.

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7. Bureaucratic

Following the rules is the secret to bureaucratic leadership success. In this most formulaic of leadership models, you have a defined job title, a set of responsibilities, and a pre-existing method for responding to urgent needs. Requiring such strict adherence to established rules and protocols can create a rigid and tense workplace for employees.

Bureaucratic leaders can be effective in some arenas, especially those involving finance and data security. In healthcare, a minor deviation from protocol in certain arenas can lead to serious repercussions from regulators or government oversight agencies, making the detail-oriented nature of bureaucratic leaders an asset.

8. Charismatic

Do you have the charm and vision to grow a company and turn your staff into your “disciples” to achieve the company goals you outline? Conviction and a magnetic personality can take you around the globe as a charismatic leader. Inspiring your team to share your passion for your vision takes skill, but it can bring rewards in the form of higher employee engagement and a better bottom line.

In medicine, charismatic leaders can have a positive impact, leading staff to participate more often in your initiatives. With such an intense focus on your goals, however, you may develop tunnel vision, forgetting the big picture or falling prey to self-absorption. Distracted focus can cause major issues in organizational efforts.

9. Pacesetting

Pacesetting leaders are driven to get results. You set the bar high and push your staff to achieve goal after goal. As a pacesetting leader, you can be quite effective in getting things done, but your constant hard-driving pace will wear down some employees. It’s a difficult style to sustain successfully over an extended period.

A healthcare environment is probably not the best fit for pacesetting leadership, although there may be exceptions. Consider a medical research lab racing to create a COVID-19 vaccine. The drive and passion of a leader who has assembled a team of skilled professionals can manifest success. But, as in any industry, the pacesetting leader may burn themselves out—and take their team with them. ((Manavi Pathak, “Pacesetting Leadership Style,” Human Capital, Oct. 15, 2019:

10. Ethical

The concept of fairness is vital to ethical leaders. This model brings a balance of logic and a sense of justice, with deep reverence for the rights of everyone involved. By making ethics a top priority, you treat your staff with respect and honesty that is mutually returned, benefiting everyone.

Ethics are a key topic for healthcare organizations as they strive to deliver equitable patient care. To be an effective community resource, the institution must maintain a high level of trust and goodwill with patients and the public. Ethical leaders in areas of public relations can be impactful as they work to showcase the strengths of the organization. ((Mary Kay, “Leadership Skills #7: Great Leaders Have Ethics,”, Jan. 5, 2016: 

11. Affiliative

Affiliative leadership requires a “people first” mindset. It’s about creating collaborative relationships and becoming an emotional support system for your team. Connecting on a direct and personal level with your employees positions you to quickly resolve conflicts among staff.

Healthcare organizations can benefit from the affiliative leadership model. The baseline emotion for affiliative leaders is compassion, an essential quality when working with staff and patients. ((Paquita C. de Zulueta, “Developing compassionate leadership in health care: an integrative review,” Journal of Healthcare Leadership, Dec. 18, 2015:

12. Coaching

Much like a sports coach, a coaching leader works with individual staff members to develop their strengths in an effort to improve the overall success of the organization. If you’re a coaching leader, you are goal oriented rather than focused on tasks. You look at the big picture and don’t get lost in the details.

The coaching leadership model applies well to the world of healthcare and studies are often available in an MSN degree program. You can provide tools and support for staff who want to strengthen their skills in order to improve performance, benefiting the company and patients. ((Indeed, “5 Common Leadership Models for Your Business,” Feb. 22, 2021:

Applying Leadership Models to Healthcare Management

Healthcare administrators face challenges unique to the industry. They must effectively and ethically direct their staff to operate in ways that benefit patients, the organization, and the public. The list above details how each traditional leadership model applies to the healthcare industry. ((Charles William Hargett et al., “Developing a model for effective leadership in healthcare: a concept mapping approach,” Journal of Healthcare Leadership, Aug. 28, 2017:

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But in 2016, researchers from the Duke University School of Medicine identified a new leadership model tailored to fit healthcare, calling it the “Duke Healthcare Leadership Model.” This model outlines the essential characteristics and skills of healthcare leaders. ((Kelly R. Murphy, “Design, implementation, and demographic differences of HEAL: a self-report health care leadership instrument,” Journal of Healthcare Leadership, Oct. 20, 2016: http:/s/

The major differentiator between the Duke Healthcare Leadership Model and traditional business models is a core focus on patient centeredness and increased competencies in emotional intelligence, critical thinking, integrity, teamwork, and selfless service. Access to this industry-specific model may inspire leaders within the healthcare workforce, as this model and future healthcare-centered versions continue to improve.

Find Your Personal Leadership Model

No matter which leadership model you resonate with, it’s smart to learn them all to better understand your own identity as a leader and how it impacts your staff. Take inspiration from some of the greatest leaders of our time and use their stories to find the model that suits you best.

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USAHS offers a Master of Health Administration (MHA) program designed for working healthcare professionals who want to improve systems of finance, informatics, operations, policy, and other key functions of healthcare organizations. The program is taught online, with optional on-campus immersion weekends (scheduled to resume in 2022) and an optional internship. Whether you choose the traditional or accelerated track—or our specializations in Executive Leadership, Business Intelligence, or Interprofessional Education—you will gain real-life experience and expand your professional network. During your capstone project, you will work with an industry mentor.

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