Leadership Styles in Nursing: What Type of Leader Are You?

Nurse leader with her team in boardroom
Nurse leader with her team in boardroom

Did you know there are many nursing leadership styles? If you are an aspiring nurse leader or a current nurse looking to expand your education through a master’s or doctoral degree, this topic is for you. In this article, we will explore ten different types of leadership styles in nursing.

When considering the pros and cons of each leadership style, do you have personality traits that make a particular style the one you wish to emulate? Perhaps the nursing leadership style that will help you reach your goals is a combination of styles. Read on to learn about the varying approaches to leadership in nursing.

Nurse practitioner leading a meeting in hospital boardroom

Autocratic Leadership Style

The autocratic leadership style is used by those in authority, where the leader dictates the actions of those they lead. In this style of leadership, the input from others is very little to none.

Pros: In situations where decisions need to be made quickly, the autocratic leadership style can be very helpful. The structure in the departmental processes makes orienting new hires very organized and seamless.

Cons: Those who are being led may feel devalued or controlled by their superiors. There may be an undesirable loss of autonomy in the nursing role.

Example: A nursing director sets very rigid and strict rules for how the nursing department will run. The nursing staff does not have input, but the director has ample experience in each role. Because of nursing staff shortages and turnover, the autocratic leadership style helps prepare the nursing team to successfully meet accreditation standards.

Democratic Leadership Style

The democratic leadership style is one where the participants of a team are actively involved in the decision-making and process development. Often the democratic style encourages fairness through open opportunities to discuss issues and to vote on outcomes.

Pros: There is a sense of dignity and value to each person in a democratic leadership style because the goal is to ensure decisions are representative of everyone on the team, as much as possible.

Cons: When there is the opportunity for opinions and individual ideas to be discussed, disagreement may arise as conflicting values are presented. Conflict may be resolved in a healthy way that promotes unity or it can be a source of strife.

Example: A nursing unit is to select one team leader to represent the unit in agency-wide meetings. After each candidate presents their qualifications to be the team leader, a vote is taken and the majority determines the decision.

Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

The laissez-faire leadership style is characterized by a leader who allows a large amount of autonomy and freedom in the team they lead. This style is not micromanaged but instead is very hands-off in the approach to leadership.

Pros: This leadership style allows each person on a team to own their role and be creative and free to succeed because they do not have a leader dictating the methods to the end goal.

Cons: There is not much accountability in this leadership style and there can be a passive rather than active dynamic fostered with a hands-off approach.

Example: A director of nursing is given a metric to reach for the nursing unit. The director’s supervisor remains available as a resource to assist the director if needed but entrusts both the attainment of the goal and the means and process to the director entirely.

Visionary Leadership Style

A visionary leader is someone who can see the end goal from the beginning. This type of leadership is one where the leader can help the team see the direction of their day-to-day work and to put forth effort toward achieving a long-term vision.

Pros: A visionary leadership style is often inspiring and passionate, thinking on a larger scale than most and exciting because of the potential for achieving a vision. This style of leadership can motivate team members who thrive when they understand what they are working toward. A sense of purpose drives the team forward.

Cons: Visionary leaders can be focused so much on the big picture that smaller, pragmatic details are lost in the vision. The direction team members need to take a vision and break the achievement of it into manageable pieces for measurable progress is sometimes lacking.

Example: A company has the vision to train so many nurses in the hope to eliminate a nursing shortage. Many are excited about this prospect but without a pragmatic plan, the vision may remain a vision that is not attained.

Transformational Leadership Style

A transformational leadership style is one where the leader serves as a role model and hopes to transform the team through the power of attitude and intellectual stimulation. Transformational leaders are focused on influencing their teams to grow and change.

Pros: There is an emphasis on innovation and exploration of new ways to achieve goals.

Cons: A focus on continued growth and change may result in team burnout.

Example: A nursing education program is growing in enrollment and new technology is adopted for clinical placement. The technology is innovative and effective and allows the university to increase efficiency while being a pioneer in this new systems approach to placement.

Servant nurse leader reviewing hospital records with team

Servant Leadership Style

Servant leadership is characterized by the desire to put the needs of others first. Servant leaders are excellent listeners who help their community.

Pros: Empathy is a hallmark of this leadership style and causes others to feel valued and seen. Mutual understanding and respect can grow in this healing environment.

Cons: Servant leadership requires a deep commitment to consistency and may take time to see results. Servant leaders may extend themselves to help others at the expense of their own needs if they are not aware of their limits.

Example: Nurse preceptors work with students in the clinical setting to help them transition into fully autonomous nurses. The focus is on the growth and the individual learning needs of the student to help them achieve confidence and professional competency.

Transactional Leadership Style

Transactional leadership focuses on a system of praise and rewards for attaining goals along with punishment or consequences for not attaining goals. This leadership style is very systematic and structured.

Pros: There is positive and negative feedback provided. For those who desire security in knowing they are meeting expectations, the reinforcement of a reward-based system helps build this security.

Cons: In a transactional leadership style, those being led may be afraid of making mistakes. This can prevent individuals from reaching their full potential if they are afraid to take risks because failure is not permitted without consequence in the learning process.

Example: A team of nurses is responsible for completing surveys on their work environment. The director of nursing is evaluated on the completion rate of the team. The team is promised a pizza party if all members of the team complete the evaluation.

Coaching Leadership Style

The coaching leadership style relies on powerful questions and strategies in motivational interviewing to lead and guide a team to success. There is a strong belief in the potential of each person to grow and achieve if they are challenged. Performance evaluations are chances to implement the coaching leadership style.

Pros: Those being coached are challenged to think critically and independently as the coaching leadership style supports individual exploration. Feedback is offered and provides an opportunity for open communication between leaders and their teams.

Cons: There is often a substantial time investment in the coaching leadership style that may not be reasonable or possible depending on the resources available. Some people do not respond positively to constructive criticism.

Example: During a nurse’s performance evaluation, the nursing director reviews the employee’s self-evaluation and then asks questions to learn the areas of opportunity from the nurse’s perspective. The director uses active listening skills and helps the nurse set goals to guide the direction of growth and performance improvement.

Bureaucratic Leadership Style

Rules and regulations characterize the bureaucratic leadership style. The principles of bureaucratic leaders are highly logical. This leadership style may be characterized by a sound organizational structure with clear expectations and measurable metrics for the performance of each employee.

Pros: The clarity in expectations that are created by the bureaucratic leadership style helps minimize misunderstandings. If a research study were to be conducted by a PhD-prepared nurse, the consistency over time with policies and procedures makes this leadership style useful in data collection. You can get a PhD in nursing and implement the bureaucratic leadership style for a structured research study.

Cons: The passionate and hardworking nature of the bureaucratic leadership style may not appeal to all personality types. Those who prefer a more laid-back approach to their work may feel pressured to perform with limited freedom to express their individuality. A task-focused environment may not be the best fit for every person.

Example: A nurse educator is conducting a research study on the implementation of pressure ulcer measuring scales used in the clinical setting. Over a ten-year timeframe, the consistency in the job descriptions and procedures used by nurses led in a bureaucratic environment allow for large-scale comparative data analysis to be completed.

Affiliative Leadership Style

The affiliative leadership style is one where empathy and understanding are valued. This leadership style focuses on resolving conflict by teamwork while building resilience in the team through strong relational connections.

Pros: The environment created by the affiliative leadership style is encouraging and positive. There is praise for jobs well done. There is ample communication among teammates and creative ideas are welcomed.

Cons: Opportunity for the vulnerability of each team member can blur the line between professional and personal, making boundaries in the workplace ambiguous as it relates to emotional issues. Personal vulnerability can build relationships but it can also create the context for emotional hurts and offenses.

Example: At the end of each shift, the nursing director holds a meeting where each person is encouraged to share their emotions about what went well during the workday and what did not. The team comes together to build each other up and nurture an environment of understanding and support to overcome challenges and collaborate on principles for success.

Nurse leaders and healthcare workers walking in front of hospital

What’s Your Nursing Leadership Style?

Now that you’ve considered these ten leadership styles in nursing, it’s time to determine your nursing leadership style. There is likely to be a nursing leadership style that most closely aligns with your personality and your goals. The best style for you may be one that incorporates strategies from several of the nursing leadership styles discussed.

So, what’s your nursing leadership style? Your style will be one that you can embrace and effectively implement to lead a team in meeting the objectives of an assignment or a mission. Become a nurse leader with an advanced nursing degree from Wilkes University. Learn more about our online nursing programs.