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Seven Effective Leadership Styles in Nursing

March 3, 2020  |  Category: Nursing

Three smiling nurses consult a medical chart.

A nurse’s primary job is to ensure that patients are safe and well cared for. Nursing supervisors have the added challenge of maintaining efficiency and adhering to process protocols while keeping up staff morale and engagement. The way a supervisor or administrator chooses to approach these goals can have a significant impact. In fact, leadership styles directly impact quality of care and patient outcomes in medical facilities, according to the medical journal Healthcare.

Leadership Styles

Leadership styles in nursing vary according to a leader’s personality, educational background, and type of work environment. All leadership techniques can be valuable in the right setting. A director of nursing in a fast-paced hospital setting might rely on autocratic leadership skills to efficiently train new registered nurses (RNs) and maintain compliance, while a chief nursing officer (CNO) in a nursing home might use transformational leadership techniques to improve employee retention and ensure that residents receive appropriate levels of care.


Transformational leaders form strong relationships and inspire nurses to act independently to achieve a hospital’s greater vision. These role models generate confidence and enthusiasm and are respected by staff members. They operate with optimism, reliability, advocacy, and efficiency to help transform staff values and behaviors.

Transformational techniques are ideal when mentoring new nurses to instill trust, commitment, accountability, and teamwork values early in their professional careers, according to the International Journal of Scientific Research and Management Studies. When challenges arise, transformational leaders listen to employee ideas while steering focus toward their organizations’ ultimate goals.

Transformational leadership skills drive high employee productivity, satisfaction, and loyalty rates and contribute to improved patient safety. As a result, transformational leadership is a component of the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Magnet Recognition Program.


Leaders exhibiting autocratic qualities excel at making snap decisions and delegating tasks, typically with limited consultation with employees. The demanding qualities of an autocratic leader can be desirable in settings such as emergency rooms and disaster response efforts, where actions must be quick, but are less effective in situations where nurses are experiencing burnout or emotional distress. Autocratic leaders are focused on enforcing safety protocols to procure results, but might overlook the pitfalls of micromanagement and the absence of team morale.

Nurses adopting the autocratic leadership style should be sure to keep the communication chain open in both directions, allowing team members to contribute and not just receive information, according to Reflections on Nursing Leadership. This practice allows leaders to match task assignments with employees’ capabilities and strengths.


Nurse leaders who use a democratic leadership style actively seek input from workers and make sure that information is disseminated fairly. This style fosters cooperation and individual growth among employees. Democratic nursing leaders balance individual accountability with overall process improvement to drive quality enhancements. They evoke a sense of inclusion and challenge workers to become active participants in change.


Laissez-faire leaders operate with a hands-off attitude, allowing nurses to act with limited guidance. For an organization seeking transformational change, this approach may be ineffective. In a medical environment with a highly experienced staff, however, a laissez-faire style could help make employees feel trusted and appreciated, as long as leaders still provide performance feedback.

In contrast to autocratic leaders, laissez-faire supervisors give workers more leeway for creativity and innovation. At the same time, they must make sure workers don’t stray from the hospital’s ultimate goals.


Pacesetters are highly motivated and lead by example to set expectations for quick turnaround. Nurse leaders can use the pacesetting method to achieve strong results in healthcare settings that prioritize productivity, but should be cautious of overworking employees.

Setting high standards can help managers identify top performers and weed out those with low productivity, driving improved business results. However, leaders must strive to keep the work pace realistic and maintain a positive work environment. By pitching in to help complete daunting tasks, supervisors can ease the pressure on employees.


Strategic leaders are focused on achieving their employers’ growth and quality goals. This leadership style in nursing can efficiently steer a medical team through transition periods. Ensuring that existing operations flow smoothly can be a challenge, but good strategic leaders will help team members navigate change without losing sight of mentorship and accountability. Strategic leaders are able to identify team strengths and weaknesses and empower employees to contribute to new policies. They have the agility and endurance to adapt to the ever-shifting healthcare landscape.


Servant leadership is an emerging nursing leadership style that puts team members’ needs above the leaders’ own goals. Servant leaders are committed to employee development and accept ideas from all workers. Their positive and motivational attitude helps nurses thrive in goal-driven environments, enriching the feeling of community among co-workers. Supervisors can boost engagement and productivity by working as an integral part of the team but must also keep sight of the organization’s strategic vision.

Become a Nursing Leader

To enter a leadership role, nurses must gain crucial skills in decision-making, relationship building, performance management, and emotional control. Effective nursing leaders embrace a leadership technique and use it to advance a healthcare organization’s vision. AdventHealth University Online’s Master of Science in Nursing program offers an Administration and Leadership track that helps nurses research, adopt, and perfect leadership styles. Learn more about how an MSN degree can help you improve your leadership skills and advance your medical knowledge by exploring AdventHealth University Online’s healthcare degree programs.

Recommended Readings
BSN vs. MSN: What’s the Right Path for You?
What Do Healthcare Administrators Do?
Nursing Career Paths: What You Can Do with a BSN or MSN Degree

American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination, “Nursing Leadership: Management & Leadership Styles”
American Express, “The 7 Most Common Leadership Styles (and How to Find Your Own)”
American Nurses Credentialing Center, “ANCC Magnet Recognition Program”
Healthcare, “Importance of Leadership Style Towards Quality of Care Measures in Healthcare Settings: A Systematic Review”
Houston Chronicle, “5 Different Types of Leadership Styles”
International Journal of Scientific Research and Management Studies, “Transformational Leadership in Nursing”
Lippincott Solutions, “Strategic Agility for Nurse Leaders”
Reflections on Nursing Leadership, “When ‘Bad’ Is Good: A Time and Place for Autocratic Leadership”
VerywellMind, “The Democratic Style of Leadership”