Nursing MSN & DNP

| 15 January 2023

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Four Leadership Styles in Nursing

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We’ve all had a boss at some point, and we know how important it is to have a good one. The right leader will set the tone of the workplace, inspire others and help to ensure increased employee satisfaction. In an environment like nursing—with hectic and stressful days—nurses need respectable leaders.

So, what if you’re the manager, or you’re thinking of becoming one? How can you be a good nurse leader?

You’ll likely need to approach your work from a new angle. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to four different types of leadership styles in nursing, explain which are the most effective and examine the qualities that make these styles work well.

Common Nursing Leadership Styles 

Leadership styles are diverse and are in part defined by unique nursing jobs. Let’s review four leadership approaches that are commonly found in nursing.

#1 Transformational Leaders

This approach emphasizes motivation, camaraderie through shared goals and individual relationships.1 These effective nurse leaders have strong communication skills and can inspire their staff to reach above and beyond.1 Transformational leadership goes hand-in-hand with a coaching style of leadership, but the latter focuses more on providing employees with challenges that help them grow and less on interpersonal relationships.2

#2 Transactional Leaders

Transactional leadership is based on clearly defined structures and performance expectations, with rewards for achievements and punishment for negative behaviors.1

While this style may motivate employees to perform well, it reduces the emphasis on nurse manager-facilitated inspiration, relationships and team goals.3 As a result, employees might find themselves only putting in effort for the rewards or to avoid punishment, rather than because they care about the work and their team members.3

#3 Laissez-Faire Leaders

Laissez-faire leadership’s hands-off approach is the most passive leadership style. In fact, these nurse leaders do very little leading. In some workplaces, this grants employees greater freedom, but it can also cause staff to lose faith in those in charge and take on too much responsibility.1

#4 Democratic Leaders

Also known as Participative Leadership, Democratic Leadership is one of the most prevalent leadership styles in nursing.4

Democratic leaders focus on the team as a whole and rely upon the opinions of each participant to make decisions. Overall, this leadership style in nursing promotes collaboration and unity, fosters candor and accountability and helps make each member of a team feel valued. That said, because this leadership style depends on the decisions of others, it may delay how any given situation is handled and negatively impact the patient.

You might also hear about autocratic leadership or authoritative leaders when researching types of leadership styles in nursing. This style focuses on issuing orders rather than building emotional connections.5 Autocratic leadership can be useful in other professional environments where employees are less knowledgeable and relationships are less vital, but for nursing, it’s usually not ideal.1, 2, 5

Four Leadership Styles in Nursing

Which Leadership Style is Best for Nurses?

Each leadership style has its place, depending on the team and environment. Which is best for a nursing practice environment?

One 2021 study on leadership styles in nursing found that the transformational style of leadership had the best impact on nurse job satisfaction, while the laissez-faire style had the worst impact.1

Let’s break down the characteristics of each leadership style and examine what makes them the most valuable for nurse leaders.

Qualities of Effective Nurse Leaders

The study above concluded that there are a few common qualities among effective nurse leaders, such as:1

  • Instilling confidence in employees
  • Demonstrating strong communication and listening skills
  • Bringing enthusiasm and optimism to their work
  • Supporting growth and development
  • Promoting teamwork
  • Being humble and open-minded

The transformational style emphasizes personal relationships and communication, both vital aspects of effective leadership.1 In contrast, a laissez-faire environment might deprive nurses of the feedback they need to improve their skills and feel empowered.1 Similarly, if the leadership style is too transactional, the staff can feel unheard and unenthusiastic.1

By breaking nurse leadership styles into their more specific qualities, it’s easier to grasp what exactly your staff needs from you.

Choose to Be a Great Nurse Leader

While it’s valuable to understand your leadership style in nursing, there isn’t one style that is always best. Rather than worrying about sticking to a single approach, aim to adapt to any situation with positive leadership skills. You’ll likely develop a personal style that pulls from characteristics associated with different leadership approaches.

To remember the qualities of a good nurse leader, choose:

  • Communication
  • Harmony
  • Optimism
  • Open-mindedness
  • Support
  • Recognition

Here are a few examples of these characteristics in action:

  • Support – A new nurse is unfamiliar with the type of test results you are analyzing. Take the opportunity to teach them what to look for, so they might learn.
  • Open-mindedness – An RN believes they’ve found a better way to optimize the schedule you’ve made. Hear them out and be willing to take their suggestions if they’re valuable.
  • Recognition – A nurse thinks quickly and makes a decision that saves someone’s life. While you might brush this off as a part of the job, make sure to acknowledge their success.
  • Harmony – A dispute breaks out between two nurses. Rather than leaving them to work it out, use a hands-on approach to get involved and find a resolution.

Each of these examples demonstrates an interest in developing your staff’s knowledge and being mindful of their emotional needs. Remember that your employees are people, and at the end of the day, you’re all there for the same reason: Enhancing your patients’ health and well being.

Four Leadership Styles in Nursing

Become Tomorrow’s Leader 

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, 1080 Marina Village Parkway, Suite 500, Alameda, CA 94501, (510)-748-9001, www.wascsenior.org. The University is a Certified B Corp institution that puts students first. Our flexible online programs are designed with working nurses in mind, so you can advance your career in your own time.

In addition to our Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs, we also offer program certificates to broaden your skills and stand out in the crowd. If you’re interested in a nursing leadership role, check out our Nurse Executive specialty.

Take the first step and request more information about our nursing programs today.

 

Sources:

 

  1. Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/
  2. Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/
  3. Kara Dennison, “Why Traditional Leadership Styles May Become Irrelevant With The Rise Of The Coaching Leadership Style,” Forbes, published May 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/karadennison/2021/05/27/why-traditional-leadership-styles-may-become-irrelevant-with-the-rise-of-the-coaching-leadership-style/?sh=711e8167e9e4
  4.   Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/
  5. Nguyen Hai Thanh and Nguyen Van Quang, “Transformational, Transactional, Laissez-faire Leadership Styles and Employee Engagement: Evidence From Vietnam’s Public Sector,” SAGE Open, published May 2022, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/21582440221094606
  6.   Nguyen Hai Thanh and Nguyen Van Quang, “Transformational, Transactional, Laissez-faire Leadership Styles and Employee Engagement: Evidence From Vietnam’s Public Sector,” SAGE Open, published May 2022, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/21582440221094606
  7. Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/
  8.   Darby Faubion, “8 Types of Leadership Styles in Nursing–Which One is Right For You?”, Nursing Process, published 2023, https://www.nursingprocess.org/leadership-styles-in-nursing.html
  9. Sophia Demtriades Toftdahl, “The 7 Most Common Leadership Styles (and How to Find Your Own),” LinkedIn, published July 2020, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/7-most-common-leadership-styles-how-find-your-own-sophia
  10.   Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/
  11. Kara Dennison, “Why Traditional Leadership Styles May Become Irrelevant With The Rise Of The Coaching Leadership Style,” Forbes, published May 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/karadennison/2021/05/27/why-traditional-leadership-styles-may-become-irrelevant-with-the-rise-of-the-coaching-leadership-style/?sh=711e8167e9e4
  12. Sophia Demtriades Toftdahl, “The 7 Most Common Leadership Styles (and How to Find Your Own),” LinkedIn, published July 2020, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/7-most-common-leadership-styles-how-find-your-own-sophia
  13.   Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/
  14.   Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/
  15.   Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/
  16.   Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/
  17. Maria Lucia Specchia et al, “Leadership Styles and Nurses’ Job Satisfaction. Results of a Systematic Review,” Int J Environ Res Public Health, published February 2021; 18(4): 1552, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7915070/

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