Nursing leadership is a multi-skilled role that encompasses practical care with managerial and financial competencies. As well as supervising their ward, nurse leaders help individuals to achieve their full potential and ensure healthcare providers reach their business goals. They are ready to adapt when new technology enters the workplace, when regulatory changes are introduced, and when therapeutic approaches are modified.
Learning to lead a healthcare team
Nurse leaders ensure facilities can navigate the evolving healthcare system and flourish. With the right training and experience, leaders can inspire their teams, maintain a safe workplace, and enhance patient outcomes. The style of nursing they adopt is influenced by several factors, their personality, the setting they practice in, and their education.
Through the executive DNP program at Baylor University, experienced registered nurses (RNs) with post-graduate qualifications are taught online so they can graduate while they work. Through expert instruction, they gain the necessary skills in both leadership and business to manage healthcare teams effectively. Once they graduate, as a new Doctor of Nursing Practice, students will need to develop their own way of managing a team.
Here’s a closer look at the seven most popular nursing leadership styles and in what circumstances they are most successful.
1. Autocratic leadership
Autocratic leaders make decisions without calling for a huddle or having a consultation with the team. Once they have a plan, they will distribute jobs and give instructions to the staff they need. Autocratic managers often keep information to themselves because they do not see the point in sharing it.
However, this can lead to things going wrong, which is frustrating for the manager and the team, who feel they were not properly informed. Nurses often feel undervalued by an autocratic leader and working as a team can be more challenging. However, in healthcare settings where emergencies frequently occur and when decisions must be made swiftly, this top-down style of management can prove useful.
2. Democratic leadership
Democratic nursing leadership involves the team providing opinions, receiving lots of feedback, and one-to-one meetings. Action is taken after a collaborative process has taken place. Leaders encourage professional development as much as they prize the success of the team working toward common goals. They aim to create a workplace in which relationships are important, people feel free to discuss their ideas or opinions, and the culture is open.
Although democratic nurse leaders are highly valued by their team, they may struggle when independent decisions are necessary. However, in organizations that prize transparency and are seeking a leader for quality improvement work, democratic managerial styles will be an advantage.
3. Laissez-faire leadership
A laissez-faire managerial style is one in which the leader has a hands-off approach and provides very little direction or guidance to people in their team. Not getting involved with nursing and allowing nurses more freedom is often favored by new leaders. On the right ward, this form of leadership encourages nurses to act on their initiative, be creative, and trust the process.
However, a lack of clear instructions can leave the nursing team rudderless, and some people will begin to work in a way that suits them, rather than following set procedures. Nevertheless, teams that are highly self-motivated and experienced can often excel under a more relaxed leadership style.
4. Servant leadership
The servant leadership form of nursing leadership is based on supporting individual members of the team. This style prioritizes the health of relationships in the workplace, ensuring that team members are cared for and people have the training and resources needed to succeed. Managers set goals that ensure employees can excel, therefore they enjoy the trust of their nurses.
Large teams that are struggling to lift their performance and need close guidance may flounder under this leadership. However, servant leaders are ideal in settings where newly registered nurses are employed, as trainees can benefit from a manager who shows empathy and is willing to nurture their talents.
5. Situational leadership
Situational nursing leaders have a flexible approach that adapts depending on what the organization needs at any time. The leader, therefore, evaluates the situation they are presented with and then chooses how to proceed. If things change within the facility, they will alter their approach.
Situational leaders focus less on the long-term aims of a facility and more on the here and now. They are good communicators, encourage teamwork, and tend to be very honest with the team about their strategies. Situational leaders often thrive in a highly organized environment, but when some individuals need more support than others, this style of management is not ideal.
6. Transactional leadership
In this style of management, the nurse leader focuses on the performance of individuals in their team. They reward those who do well and have a set punishment strategy in place for those who fail to perform optimally. Transactional leaders seek to organize the nurses who work under them and the workload they have. As a result, nurses understand what is expected of them, but morale can be low as the team feels over-managed.
Under a transactional leader, nurses are unlikely to solve problems independently or seek creative approaches. The emphasis is on getting jobs completed as quickly as possible, and this highly structured approach can be ideal when nursing teams need to become more productive or reach set goals.
7. Transformational leadership
Sometimes referred to as the quiet style of leadership, managers who adopt this approach will motivate their employees to work independently. Nurses are encouraged to improve their performance and develop as professionals. Leaders are clear about what the team are responsible for and once this is established, they expect people to work with minimal direction from senior colleagues.
Having good interpersonal relationships, motivating their team, and helping them to reach their potential are key elements of this style. It is most effective in healthcare settings that have a strong organizational structure and aim to mentor new or younger employees by providing clear guidance from the outset.