With so many types of leadership styles in nursing, you may find that your personal style embodies more than one!
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!
While each style falls into its own “category”, keep in mind that many of the best leaders blend a number of styles based on the needs of their team and company goals.
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 leadership skills that go along with it.
Leadership is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the act or an instance of leading”, but it’s much more than that.
Every nurse’s definition of “leader” likely varies (just like each personal philosophy of nursing varies, for example). That said, the traits below are commonly associated with nursing leadership qualities:
- Positive, uplifting and confident in nature
- Ability to inspire
- A caring and empathetic listener
- Focused on bettering the workplace
- Equipped to handle adversity
- Sets a strong example
- Honest and loyal to their team and organization
- A highly productive goal-setter
When it comes to nursing leaders, you can probably picture a few people you know personally who check most of these boxes. That’s because the nursing profession attracts people who embody such effective leadership behavior, thanks to an intrinsic caregiving nature.
The question is: Can you check all the “nurse leadership qualities” boxes? That depends on your style(s).
So, what are the different types of leadership styles in nursing? Let’s dive in!
Common Types of Leadership Styles in Nursing
1. Affiliative Leadership
Affiliative Leadership is based on harmony. This sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
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 completed.
In some cases, and high-stress nurse environments may be one such case, the large number of employees and emotionally-taxing work means an affiliative leader’s work is never done.
While this leadership style isn’t for everyone as it often overlooks more business-oriented traits such as workflow process, this hands-on, relationship-based style is by far the best choice for organizations in conflict.
2. Authoritarian Leadership
At first glance, authoritarian nursing leadership seems a bit harsh. In reality, there is a need for authoritarian leading and managing in nursing in certain settings.
Before we explore that, 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
As you try to determine your personal nursing leadership style, you may be reading this and shaking your head in disagreement, as it does not align with the team-driven and empathetic nursing principles you practice.
However, consider the medical necessity of strict rules and guidelines in the OR for example. An authoritarian leader is in complete control and that ensures all team members know exactly what to do and when. This reduces mistakes significantly but it does not foster growth.
This type of leadership style in nursing is valuable in certain medical settings such as correctional facilities and in the military, among others.
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. With this leadership style, nurse managers are always looking for a lesson to teach for their fellow nurses to gain insight.
This is one of many nursing leadership styles, but it may be one of the most popular. Nurses are used to working on medical teams with a variety of other professionals and nurse leaders. Because of that, they are able to absorb from and appreciate a coaching style.
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
In short, nurses who embody the democratic leadership style are great at bringing each team member together to facilitate new ideas and improve the workplace.
5. Servant Leadership
Not often found in other industries, servant leaders are 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, a servant leader promotes positive and healthy working environments in which everyone knows they are supported.
Trust is a huge piece of the puzzle with servant leadership. 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
Nurses who embody the situational leadership style are highly successful because of their adaptability.
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.
Often, a situational leader will adapt their management style to the situation at hand, making them a jack-of-all-trades in a sense. In other industries, this may be a bit of a drawback. In medicine and the health care industry in general, you can likely envision a number of specialities where this is important (ER anyone?).
As you know, having a wide variety of leadership traits is excellent; if you identify with situational leadership we recommend honing a few of the business-minded democratic leader traits to round out your expertise.
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.
Similar to transformational leadership, a visionary leader provides inspiration and guidance to help each team member reach their desired goals. A visionary nurse manager helps both employees and patients reach success. This style is especially useful in cutting-edge medicine, new facilities and in research settings.
We’ve broken down the nine most popular and effective nurse leadership styles:
As you can now see, there are a number of different leadership styles in nursing!
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 nursing management styles that blend well for you and your team.
No matter your style, effective leadership comes down to providing support. As a nurse, we know that’s something you can do exceptionally well.
What type of leadership styles in nursing make the most sense to you?
Share with us in the comments below!