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5 of the Best Leadership Styles in Nursing

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Working long hours or the night shift? If so, you know that a good boss can make or break a workplace. 

Not only do empathetic nurse managers make those long, stressful shifts and tough patients more manageable, they also provide you with the leadership and support you need to make that added stress a little easier. A good team lead can empower you, knowing someone you trust has your back.

Leadership skills in nurse management are essential, but certain leadership styles are better than others. If you’re a nurse who has concerns about your team lead, or you’re looking to step into a managerial role yourself, we have all the info below on the best leadership styles for nursing.

Leadership styles in nursing

For nursing, leadership styles in healthcare break down into five core categories: transformational leadership, democratic leadership, laissez-faire leadership, autocratic leadership and servant leadership. 

Here are the pros and cons of these different leadership styles, 

Transformational leadership

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When you hear the phrase “transformational leadership,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Do you picture a visionary or a disruptor? Does the image fill you with excitement for increased job satisfaction or dread?

Passionate, forward-thinking and creative, these extroverted leaders are determined to shake things up for the better. Innovation is the name of the game, and they know that mistakes will happen along the way. All they ask is that people learn from their mistakes and not put patient outcomes at risk.

If you’re worried about a transformational leader in a healthcare setting, don’t be. They implement positive change and can improve an organizational system. The only downside? A transformational leadership style can be rocky in the initial stages, especially if that transformational leader doesn’t have a solid managerial structure to work with.


Democratic leadership

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When you apply a democratic leadership style to nursing, it needs to happen with care. For this managerial style, expect to see socially minded leaders who engage with all staff members throughout the decision-making process. Democratic leaders are focused on building relationships and are driven by a strong sense of collaboration and mutual respect. This desire for mutual respect can forge strong, lasting connections with their colleagues. 

However, getting a consensus among a large workforce can slow down the decision-making process. In nursing, this creates a problem, as sometimes you only have minutes to save a patient’s life. There simply isn’t time to receive feedback.




Laissez-faire leadership 

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On the surface, laissez-faire leadership sounds like a dream. Instead of a micromanaging, autocratic leader who makes top-down decisions, a laissez-faire approach will prioritize a hands-off methodology where everyone is responsible for their own choices. So long as you do your job well, a laissez-faire leader won’t interfere.

However, collaboration and professional socialization are keys to a successful nursing department. A laissez-faire approach discourages a team-building mentality, so this individualistic nature can create a culture of blame when things go wrong with the quality of care. New nurses may also be unsure of making decisions on their own. This hesitation, combined with a lack of active leadership, can result in lower-quality patient care or patient satisfaction.



Autocratic style

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With the autocratic leadership style, expect a methodology that sits in direct opposition to the laissez-faire approach. An authoritarian leader will make top-down, unilateral decisions, delegating the completion of those decisions to others. When they do take charge, the general staff usually has little say in those decisions. Innovation is not accepted, while errors or a drop in competency rates result in harsh punishment.

These rigid leadership structures can lead to constant micromanaging, employee dissatisfaction and negative reinforcement. Short-term, an autocratic style can be helpful in emergencies where the stakes are high and decisions must be made quickly; however, it can cause high levels of employee turnover in the long term.



Servant leadership style

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Servant leaders divert all their time and attention into listening to those under their supervision. They then provide them with the tools they need, such as putting in a group order for a pair of white scrubs for women or light scrubs for men to reflect the summer heat.

With servant leaders, expect an empathetic, self-sacrificing, supportive style of nursing oversight. The collective good takes priority over those who oversee things. People with this leadership style are often drawn to serving and helping others, which is a perfect fit for nursing. Staff members can respond well to this care and attention, too.




How to become a leader in nursing

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With these five leadership styles lined up, you can arguably say some work better than others for health care organizations. Suppose you’re applying for a new job and you know which style of mentoring you’d like to avoid for your nursing career. You can also ask your potential employer what type of managerial processes they implement, too.

What if you want to help your healthcare facility at a higher level, however? What if you want to take on that leadership role yourself and oversee other nursing staff? Well, on top of additional accreditations or schooling to be eligible for the job, you’ll also need to ask the all-important question: “Do I have the right soft skills to lead others with one of these effective leadership styles?” Soft skills include, 


Within the nursing practice, it’s your job to help others. You also have to think beyond yourself for your staff and your patients within the healthcare system. This means ego has no place. It’s also crucial to avoid cost-cutting behaviors that put people’s lives at risk. Integrity can also manifest itself in overall professionalism and respect for cultural differences in healthcare.

Emotional intelligence

Make sure you know how to read and respond to others’ intentions on your nursing team, especially if those intentions are not always verbalized. Figure out how to manage your own emotions, too, and draw out positive emotional reactions from your team. It also never hurts to have a sense of tact or political workplace savviness.

Respectful behavior

In short, be respectful of those who work for you. Mutual respect not only builds a more robust sense of teamwork and a more team-oriented framework, but it leads to greater well-being and staffing retention, too. If you’re only flattering your superiors, others will notice, which will have the opposite effect.

Critical thinking

Be quick with your thoughts and on your feet. Know how to solve a crisis innovatively, if required. You can use a combination of empathy and logical decision-making to increase the quality of your workplace dynamics.

Open communication

Make sure that your communication skills are top-notch for interpersonal, written and verbal scenarios. Nothing makes the team break down faster than poorly relayed or confusing instructions, which can ultimately put patient safety at greater risk.

Are you looking for more information on management styles, patient satisfaction or how to help your team? Check out our article on nurse burnout in healthcare systems and how to prevent it. You can also browse through our selection of women’s scrubs and men’s scrubs to make sure you’re dressed for a new managerial position, too.

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