Every staff needs a leader. In nursing, the leader is expected to supervise a team of healthcare professionals in assisting patients as effectively as possible. Moreover, leaders collaborate with other decision-making factors to mitigate potential concerns related to patient care.

Being a lead nurse is a challenging task. They are expected to meet the requirements of each staff member, which sometimes results in conflict between the parties involved. That is why choosing the most appropriate leadership style is key to better patient outcomes.

This article covers the most common leadership styles in nursing and provides guidance on how to choose yours. Keep on reading to learn more!

Common Leadership Styles in Nursing

The American Nurses Association (ANA) recognizes seven primary leadership styles in nursing, and we are here to walk you through each one of them.

Transformational Leadership

In this leadership setting, the lead nurse coaches employees to think critically about their tasks and perform beyond expectations. A transformational leader encourages team members to take initiative and work together to facilitate change. In this case, the leader will influence, not direct. Transformational leadership requires future-oriented leaders who are extroverted, charismatic, inspirational, and confident in motivating others.

This leadership style gives freedom to the staff to explore other ways of solving a problem, not merely focusing on what they are instructed to do. Nevertheless, transformational leadership can also be challenging, specifically at the initial stages when job descriptions are vague and goals unclear.

Democratic Leadership

In the democratic style, a leader is open to collaborative decision-making. A democratic leader believes in teamwork by listening to other nurses’ opinions, assessing their points of view, and adjusting the system, all the while prioritizing the patient. This leadership style calls for recognition, sympathy, collaboration, good listening skills, and a firm belief in diversity.

Many leaders in nursing apply the democratic style because it fosters a positive working environment where each individual is encouraged to participate in change. One limitation to remember is that too many opinions may sometimes turn into an issue, where the leader needs help to adjust their decision-making in a way that satisfies everyone.

Autocratic Leadership

Contrary to democratic leadership, the autocratic style gives ultimate power to the leader. This leading technique allows the lead nurse to be in full charge, by making quick and prompt decisions without collaborating with colleagues. An autocratic leader rules and orders, thus delegating the environment themselves.

Autocratic leadership is highly valued when a situation requires swift decisions to overcome obstacles. However, one limitation of this style is the lack of partnership in the working space, which might cause dissatisfaction among nurses. In order to carry out this leadership style, the lead nurse must be authoritative and self-reliant.

Servant Leadership

Connotatively positive, servant leadership creates a supportive environment for the team. A servant leader provides team members with all means necessary to achieve goals. This style of leading calls for empathy, active listening, and support, where the lead nurse is expected to evaluate an issue before deciding how to approach it.

Servant leadership enables the leader to adjust themselves to various situations while meeting each individual’s requirements. One limitation of this style comes to the surface when circumstances call for clear directions to quickly align the team for their duties, which fails to be realized under servant leadership.

Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership is the opposite of autocratic leadership and slightly similar to the transformational one. It calls for a “hands-off” approach, where the leader provides minimal direction and motivates the staff members to execute tasks themselves. This means the lead nurse is tolerant and trusting, but they might intervene when deemed necessary.

This leadership style creates a sense of freedom in staff members and has the potential to be highly effective, especially for experienced teams. On the other hand, laissez-faire leadership might not work in environments with inexperienced employees who seek guidance from the leader.

Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership applies a task-and-reward approach to ensure the working process goes smoothly. This type of leader will focus on the present and on reaching short-term goals. This means the instructions are clear, and employees are expected to complete assigned duties accordingly. If successful, team members are rewarded; if they fail to follow instructions, they might face penalties.

This style of leading simplifies the aims of duty as the nurses are aware of what the job calls for, and how the lead nurse wants it done. However, transactional leadership limits creativity and critical thinking while fostering rapid problem-solving, and this can sometimes lead to less satisfactory results.

Situational Leadership

As the name suggests, for this type of leadership, the lead nurse considers the circumstances before choosing their approach. A situational leader may switch from one style of leading to another, from flexibility to strict guidance, from indefinite freedom to full direction. It all depends on the situation at hand.

As much as it can contribute to building a strong team where nurses delegate tasks and share their workload, situational leadership comes with some drawbacks. One of the most important is that too much change can cause a lack of cohesiveness. Nurses might become less efficient if adaptability is required at all times.


Identifying Your Leadership Style in Nursing

Aligning your expertise and personality with one of the leadership styles in nursing takes effort.

A lead nurse should be aware of their own strengths and choose the style of leadership accordingly. A good leader will also evaluate their staff and consider the various personalities they will be cooperating with. Meeting almost everyone’s criteria is crucial in teamwork.

To choose your leadership style, think of what you’re best at. Whether it is giving prompt instructions, motivating free will, or leading by example, there is something for everyone. Whatever the technique, it is important to maintain open communication with other healthcare professionals and for them to realize the aims of patient care.

How Does Experience Help Determine Your Leadership Style?

Nursing is a profession that, besides clinical expertise, requires constant learning. During a nursing career, individuals learn to adapt to their patient’s needs, develop strong critical thinking skills, and become more effective in managing their time and prioritizing tasks. This, in turn, impacts the leadership style because the more you grow, the better the understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

Personal Values and the Demands of the Nursing Role

Nursing is a career path that necessitates a combination of personal values with the readiness to meet various demands to achieve success. Below, we have compiled a list of everything you must consider.

Some of the personal values of the nursing role include:

  • Emotional intelligence – Nurses are expected to learn how to manage their emotions while also understanding their patients’ emotions. This is crucial for establishing strong interpersonal relationships.
  • Critical thinking skills – Nurses must know how to think critically when facing a problematic scenario, especially in high-pressure situations.
  • Interpersonal skills – Nurses must be communicative, active listeners, and empaths. In addition, they are expected to be patient, trustworthy, and professional when dealing with patients.
  • Compassion – Nurses must genuinely care about their patients’ health and well-being. It is a vital trait that puts the nurse-patient relationship to the ultimate test.


Some of the primary demands of the nursing role include:

  • Patient’s autonomy – In healthcare, it will sometimes be challenging to balance a patient’s rights to decide for their health vs the nurse’s beliefs of what’s best for them.
  • Adaptability – Nurses are meant to assist their patients. This means adapting to their needs, no matter the circumstances.
  • Tolerance and open-mindedness – In healthcare, nurses are supposed to maintain an open mind toward their patient’s choices and beliefs, even when they differ from their own.
  • Legal and ethical obligations – In healthcare, nurses are legally and ethically obligated to uphold patient confidentiality and report unsafe practices.


As we explore different leadership styles in nursing, it becomes evident that no single style fits each individual. The choice of leadership often resonates with one’s values and experiences, their staff, and the healthcare setting. Whether it is the democratic leader fostering collaboration, the servant leader dedicated to serving the team, or the autocratic leader making isolated decisions, the lead nurse shall understand the necessity to operate in full commitment to exceptional patient care and their team’s well-being.