Healthcare Leadership Styles: Which One Is Suitable for Nurse Leaders?


Leadership is an essential function that every organization, regardless of its nature and industry, requires to keep pace with the changing norms and practices. In today’s highly volatile and disruptive world, all the sectors and industries worldwide are influenced by dramatic shifts and advancements. Whether these shifts are favorable or not depends on market conditions and the economy. Nonetheless, effective leadership is critical to steering organizations and driving them through unpredictable events and market fluctuations. Similarly, healthcare organizations require leadership at all levels to ensure optimal patient outcomes, quality health services, and adherence to changing policies and regulations. 

Specifically, nurse leadership is crucial to ensure trustworthy nurse-patient relationships, attainment of department-wide goals, and high staff motivation levels. While these are not the only critical areas of focus, they hold immense significance in the healthcare field. 

Nurse Leadership

Nurse leaders, practically, are nurse managers and administrators whose job is to supervise and mentor the nursing staff in any clinical setting. Nursing management and administration have evolved into a profession that requires nurses to be trained in healthcare leadership. Aspiring nurse leaders need to learn to develop and boost their staff’s motivation, performance, and job satisfaction. Effective nurse management is essential to healthcare facilities in managing patient care and ensuring optimal results. 

The effectiveness of a nurse manager depends upon the leadership style being used by the nurse. Therefore, nurse leaders should be aware of the different leadership styles in healthcare. Primarily, there are six types of healthcare leadership styles that nurse leaders can leverage to manage their teams: 

  • Autocratic
  • Democratic
  • Delegative 
  • Transactional
  • Transformational 
  • Servant

As the nursing profession is transforming at an unprecedented rate, nurses worldwide are seeking higher roles and responsibilities. Whether they aspire to become a nurse administrator or manager, they’ve to hone specific leadership styles crucial for securing such higher positions. 

Below, we will look at various leadership styles aspiring nurse leaders can adopt to excel in their profession.

Autocratic Leadership 

Autocratic or authoritarian leaders are highly independent and make most decisions themselves. Autocratic nurse leaders have substantial control over their team and are effective at micromanaging. However, this leadership style is not recommended for all nurse leaders as it does not promote trust and communication in the group. 

This leadership style is only suitable for nurse leaders in emergency rooms, operating rooms, trauma centers, intensive care units, and obstetric units. These settings require swift decision-making or where they are managing a small team. 

Democratic Leadership

Democratic leadership style is a participative style of leadership. Democratic nurse leaders motivate team leaders to partake in decision-making willingly. What’s more, these nurse leaders are admired and appreciated for their ability to work well with teams while still making the final decision. They mainly take input from their teams on critical decisions before calling the final shots. 

This leadership style works well in emergency rooms, medical-surgical rooms, long-term care units, and pediatrics. Participative leadership doesn’t work well in settings that require quick or independent decision-making.

Delegative Leadership

Unlike the autocratic leadership style, which is a “hands-on” approach, laissez-faire or delegative leadership style is a “hands-off” approach. Delegative leaders delegate authority by letting the team members make decisions and operate independently. This leadership style promotes ideas and creativity from the team with little to no guidance from the leader. While delegative nurse leaders are appreciated for encouraging individuality and creating a positive atmosphere, they may be regarded as “un-motivating” in some instances. 

This leadership style is only suitable for nurse leaders working with an experienced team that can operate independently. For instance, this style will prove worthwhile in hospice care, home care, or outpatient clinical settings.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership style promotes usage of reward-punishment ideals for improving productivity. Transactional leaders set goals for their team members, and the team members are rewarded for achieving these goals. Contrastingly, team members are penalized when they don’t achieve their goals. Transactional nurse leaders are rigorous in following a routine and guidelines. 

The usage of achievable targets and a reward system allow transactional nurse leaders to motivate and encourage. Due to its transactional nature, this style can also be unempathetic and rigid. The transactional leadership style is suitable for nurse leaders in settings such as hematology and oncology floors, outpatient clinics, and same-day surgical clinics. And that’s because these settings mandate sticking to routines and targets. 

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leaders are defined by their visionary and productive approach to leadership. They set out a vision for themselves, their team, and the organization and motivate everyone to achieve their goals. These leaders promote ideas and participation amongst their team members. Transformational nurse leaders are well-respected by their staff, given their exceptional communication and conflict resolution skills. 

This leadership style is highly-favored in healthcare since it improves productivity and has low turnover rates amongst staff. Nurse leaders using this leadership style can operate well in most healthcare settings. They mainly work well in hospitals, start-ups, and entrepreneurial nursing jobs.

Servant Leadership

Servant leadership style is a relatively new leadership style that focuses on building individual relationships with team members and developing each member’s skills. This leadership style is advantageous for high-performing or multidisciplinary and diverse teams. Servant nurse leaders aspire to lead their teams by serving every one of them. They ensure that their teams’ needs are met regardless of their roles, specialties, and resource requirements. 

However, this style may not work well where authoritarian management is required. 

Final Thoughts

Research has shown that the relationship between the leader and the team is of utmost significance. An influential leader’s behavior is situational rather than permanent. However, it is still essential for nurse leaders to adopt a leadership style or hone a few traits from different types. Influential nurse leaders are known to have impeccable qualities and characteristics. They possess self-awareness, emotional and cultural intelligence, empathy, and excellent communication skills. 

Effective nurse leaders also promote better patient outcomes and build healthy relationships with all stakeholders. However, nurse leaders must decide which leadership style is suited for their position, given the situation and their domain. 


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