5 Nursing Leadership Styles You’ll Come to Learn as a Nurse

Written by Sheryl Posnick

If you work in the healthcare field, especially in nursing, your focus might (understandably) be on direct patient care and teamwork with other medical professionals to make sure that patients are getting that best care. But as a nurse, you’ve also got career goals for yourself, which likely include advancement and moving up the ranks through promotions and job changes.

Whether you’re just starting out as a nurse of want to level up, it’s time to figure out what kind of nursing leadership style works for you as you get ready to take on more managerial roles throughout your career.

According to the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination (AANAC), there are five main leadership categories into which nurses tend to fall. Let’s look at each one.

1. Autocratic Leadership

An autocratic nurse is The Boss, full stop. A nurse who leads using this management style makes all decisions and gives specific orders and directions to subordinates, and tends to discourage questions or dissent. There’s also a low tolerance for mistakes and the people who make them.

When this style works best: For simple or straightforward tasks, or making sure that strict legal or medical guidelines are adhered to. It can also help in emergency situations, when there needs to be a strong voice giving direction.

When this style doesn’t work so well: When a nurse manager wants to build trust and teamwork among other team members, or encourage creative problem solving.

2. Laissez-Faire Leadership

The laissez-faire nurse is the opposite of the autocratic nurse. In this style, the nurse provides no specific direction for team members, and adopts more of a hands-off approach to managing.

When this style works best: When the nurse’s team is already experienced and self-directed, and doesn’t necessarily need a general giving orders.

When this style doesn’t work so well: When specific decisions need to be made and implemented, or team members are inexperienced.

3. Democratic Leadership

The democratic nurse manager takes input from subordinates, and encourages open communication. The decisionmaking ultimately with the manager, but stakeholders and team members are asked for honest feedback, and given feedback in return.

When this style works best: When the nurse wants to build relationships with staff members based on trust and accountability, or when improving systems and processes is a priority.

When this style doesn’t work so well: When a concrete decision needs to be made quickly, gathering feedback and testing the waters with team members isn’t necessarily helpful or feasible.

4. Transformational Leadership

The transformational (sometimes also called visionary) nurse manager is focused on the big picture (improved patient care, better systems and processes), and how to get there.

When this style works best: When the workplace (in this case, a hospital, clinic, or other healthcare facility) is in need of big changes and improvements.

When this style doesn’t work so well: When day-to-day decision making is required on small or specific issues.

5. Servant Leadership

The servant nurse leader focuses on team success via individual team members. Despite the meek-sounding name, this management style has been gaining popularity over the past few years. This leader targets team members’ needs, ensuring that they have the skills, relationships, and tools to achieve individual and group goals.

When this style works best: When a team has diverse members with different tasks and responsibilities.

When this style doesn’t work so well: When top-down decisions need to be made, or a group needs to follow collective directions.

So which type of nurse leader are you, and what kind of leadership style works best for your job and your career goals? We’d love to hear how these management styles work for you.

About the author

Sheryl Posnick

Sheryl Posnick is an editor and writer living in Brooklyn, NY. She is the founder and president of Red Letter Content, an editorial company with a focus on educational, test preparation, and career readiness materials.