7 Types of Nursing Leadership Styles

If you are currently in a nursing leadership position (or plan to be), it’s important to have a personal definition of the word and the traits that go along with it.

In this article, we’ll break down the seven most common leadership styles in nursing. We’re going to cover both hands-on and hands-off styles and everything in between! Let’s dive in.

Common Types of Leadership Styles in Nursing

1. Affiliative Leadership

Affiliative Leadership is based on harmony. With a focus on building positive relationships focused on trust and loyalty, an affiliative leader is often most useful in organizations suffering from low morale.

Note that this nursing leadership style is entirely emotional. Because of that, an affiliative leader may have to practice more results-minded traits when their initial work of alleviating stress and facilitating strong connections has been completed.

This hands-on, relationship-based style is by far the best choice for organizations in conflict.

2. Authoritarian Leadership

Before thinking that authoritarian nursing leadership seems a bit harsh, let’s review the traits of an authoritarian leader according to EBA.com:

  • The leader tells and enforces
  • Little feedback is sought or needed from team members
  • Decisions on processes, tasks, goals are all created by the leader
  • There is a sense that team members are rarely trusted with tasks and methods
  • The leadership style points at a method of just getting the job done

Consider the medical necessity of strict rules and guidelines in your workplace. An authoritarian leader is in complete control and ensures all team members know exactly what to do and when. This reduces mistakes significantly but it does not foster growth.

3. Coaching Leadership

Unlike an authoritarian, the coaching leadership style seeks to develop their team based on individual strengths and potential.

This style requires patient, long-term thinking. It’s most successful when the employees are open to being mentored. Because nurses encounter so much every day, a coach must invest in molding their success based on individual experiences in the workplace.

This is one of many nursing leadership styles, but it may be one of the most popular.

4. Democratic Leadership

Perhaps the best of both worlds, democratic leaders focus equally on listening to their employees and building processes for better business practices.

With a knack for inspiring others and cultivating creativity, the democratic style of leadership in nursing thrives on feedback.

Democratic leaders often embody these traits, according to Leadership-Toolbox.com:

  • Keeps communication open
  • Respects and values everyone
  • Focuses on the discussion
  • Leads with confidence and commitment
  • Builds skilled teams with varying expertise

5. Servant Leadership

Not often found in other industries, the servant is one of the most common examples of leadership in nursing.

This style aligns harmoniously with everything a nurse is: needs-focused, helpful, strong listener, empathetic and much more.

By focusing on their team and patients’ needs first and foremost, this leadership style promotes positive and healthy working environments in which everyone knows they are supported.

There aren’t many drawbacks to this style, although it leans more toward emotional than business-minded and that may result in lower productivity and stalled growth.

6. Situational Leadership

This style is built on a foundation of critical thinking skills and a flexible attitude. With an ability to modify processes on the fly and fill gaps in real time, this leadership style has its pros and cons.

Strong analytical skills and a willingness to act is highly valuable in nursing settings. The drawback of flexibility and modification is that it can detract from processes put in place for long-term company growth.

7. Visionary Leadership

Last but not least, visionary leadership centers on motivation and encouragement. These forward-thinking leaders spend most of their time focused on the future potential their team can reach.

By providing inspiration and guidance, visionary nursing leadership helps both employees and patients reach success. This style is especially useful in cutting-edge medicine, new facilities and in research settings.

Which type of leader are you?

Determining which type of leader you are (or strive to be) doesn’t mean fitting into any particular one. You may find elements of many styles that blend well for you and your team.

No matter your style, good leadership comes down to providing support!


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