7 Leadership Styles In Nursing: How Do They Impact You?

Is your manager an autocrat or a servant?

You’re moving up in your career and about to assume a managerial role. Are you prepared? How do you want to lead? What are your leadership styles in nursing options?

Leadership and management styles notably affect nurse performance and job satisfaction. Effective nurse leaders directly impact quality of care and patient experience. Some of the best leaders ensure efficiency and proficiency while delivering mentorship. 

What type of nurse manager will bring out the best in you? What kind of leader do you, yourself, want to be? 

7 Common Leadership Styles In Nursing


Autocratic leaders make decisions with little input or consultation from their employees. These hands-on leaders are quick thinkers and are great at delegating tasks and giving directions. 

Strengths: Autocratic nurse leaders work well in emergency situations. It is also useful when enforcing legal policies and medical procedures that protect patient health and safety. 

Weaknesses: Because this leadership style can be associated with negative reinforcement, these leaders are less effective at building team camaraderie, developing trust, or having open communication. 

Autocratic nurse leaders should be sure they keep communication lines open with staff and be aware of their staff’s strengths and capabilities. They should allow team members to voice their opinion, concerns, and ideas without being condescending. 


Laissez-faire leaders offer minimum amounts of supervision and take a “hands-off” approach. While they promote creativity and ingenuity, they typically don’t provide guidance or direction. You can often see this type of leadership style among new or inexperienced nurse leaders.

Strengths: Due to lack of micromanaging, highly-experienced or self-directed nurse teams can thrive under this type of leadership style. Laissez-faire leaders work well in home healthcare and hospice environments, where nurses are highly confident in their skills and can work independently. 

Weaknesses: The Laissez-faire leader encourages employees to set their own goals and solve any issues. New or inexperienced nurses and nurses who need more guidance or hand-holding don’t do well with laissez-faire nurse leaders. 

Laissez-faire leaders should ensure their employees practice safe and competent nursing. 

Democratic leader

A democratic leader encourages feedback, involvement, and communication from team members. Their style is collaborative. They encourage personal and professional growth and focus on team success. 

Strengths: Their style works well in improving quality and processes. This nursing leadership style works well in quality assurance and performance improvement roles and diversity and inclusion roles. 

Weaknesses: When a rapid response is needed in an emergency medical situation — like when a patient codes — these leaders may find it difficult to make quick, independent decisions. Democratic leaders need to be careful to maintain decision-making authority.

Nurses who enjoy getting in-depth feedback, want to grow professionally, and actively participate in decision-making and changes work well with democratic leaders. 


Transformational nurse leaders are visionary. They build engaged teams and are beneficial in facilities where significant changes are needed, such as improving overall patient care. For example, a 2019 study of 17 hospitals in Pakistan showed gains in employee satisfaction may reduce rates of patient care errors. A recent Belgian study also demonstrated improvements in the safety performance of nurses due to transformational leadership.

Strengths: Transformational leaders work well with new nurses, as they are great at mentoring, instilling trust, building confidence, and encouraging teamwork while encouraging nurses to act independently. They listen to ideas and concerns and are usually highly respected leaders in an organization. Transformational leaders work well when a hospital, clinic, or other facility needs improvement.

Weaknesses: While studies have shown that transformational leadership skills drive high employee satisfaction and retention, it is less effective in facilities where the leader is responsible for day-to-day decision making.

Transformational leadership is one component of the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s (ANCC) Magnet Model. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA) transformational leaders, “must lead people to where they need to be to meet the demands of the future.”


Servant leaders are relationship-oriented and focus on individuals’ needs. These leaders ensure employees have the skills, tools, and resources they need to achieve goals. They are highly involved in employee development. 

Strengths: Servant leaders create goal-driven environments, and nurses who like working with diverse teams and environments will do well. New nurses work well under servant leaders, as these leaders are patient and empathetic. Servant leaders work well in nurse educator, staff development, and clinical leadership roles.  

Weaknesses: Servant leaders put the team’s well-being over their individual needs or goals but should be sure they keep sight of the facility or organizations’ strategic objectives.

Servant nurse leaders are great listeners and prioritize empathy. They build trust and develop teams.

Though the term “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970, the concept has existed for much longer. As someone who served a worthy cause for ‘the greater good’ and prioritized empathy and awareness, many associate Florence Nightingale with the servant leadership philosophy. 


Healthcare is constantly changing. Situational leaders work well in healthcare because they are flexible and modify their leadership style based on an organization or individual nurse’s needs. These nurse leaders analyze the situation and then determine the appropriate approach. Situational leaders are among the most adaptable of the leadership styles in nursing.

Strengths: Situational leaders work well with nursing students in clinical settings.  

Weaknesses: Situational leaders often divert from an organization’s long-term strategies or goals. 

Situational leaders can freely change their management style. They work well in a flexible environment.


Transactional leaders use a reward and punishment system. They focus on:

  • Supervision
  • Organization
  • Performance

Efficiency is prioritized over building morale. Highly bureaucratic healthcare organizations have traditionally utilized transactional leadership strategies to meet short-term goals. 

Strengths: Transactional leaders do well with problem-solving. Their leadership style can lead to reduced errors and an evidence-based approach to care. It is a task-oriented style most useful for clarifying roles and responsibilities and working within tight deadlines and emergency situations.

Weaknesses: Transactional leaders pay more attention to mistakes made by staff rather than encouraging a teaching or inspirational environment. 

The relationship between these managers and their nurses entirely relies on the outcomes of the transitions. Employees must be motivated by rewards and discipline. These leaders work well in an environment where tasks should be completed in a specific manner. Transactional leaders only focus on the present. They are not concerned with the performance of the organization in the future. 

Overall Qualities of an Exceptional Nurse Leader

  • Integrity. Integrity is vital for making the right decisions for patients and team members. Your leader should teach empathy and ethical practices. Leaders with integrity often show compassion and don’t put profits over people. They respect you as an individual and as an essential member of the team.
  • Critical thinking. Critical thinking is an integral part of nursing. Leaders need to think on-the-spot and clearly explain their rationale. Critical thinking is key when deciding among the leadership styles in nursing. 
  • Communication. Good nurse leaders know how to communicate and actively listen. They encourage open communication and don’t discourage you from expressing concerns or ideas. Communication and collaboration are critical to the healthcare system. Nurse leaders must promote communication between patients, nurses, and staff.
  • Professionalism. Leaders should remain professional at all times, and other team members will hopefully reflect that same positivity. 

Train to Be a Nurse Leader

Here are steps you can take to demonstrate leadership:

  • Education. Consider pursuing an MSN – Administration and Management degree to improve your abilities as a leader and craft your communication skills. Good nurse leaders have excellent decision-making, relationship-building, and performance management skills. If you do not yet have your BSN, you may choose — or be required — to pursue a BSN (RN to BSN).  
  • Be proactive. Great leaders are visionary and take the initiative to take care of what needs to be handled. They develop education, design programs, and think outside the box. 

To be a great leader — and recognize effective leadership — don’t be afraid to adapt and change your strategy for your patients, colleagues, organization, and self. Use critical thinking to make those choices and never stop growing as a nurse. 


If you want to become a leader or move up in your nursing career, Aspen University offers online RN to BSN, specialized MSN, and DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) programs to help you get there. 


Portia WoffordPortia Wofford is an award-winning nurse, writer, and digital marketer. After dedicating her nursing career to creating content and solutions for employers that affected patient outcomes, these days, Portia empowers health practices to grow their communities through engaging content that connects and converts. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for her latest.


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