Finding the Best Leadership Style for Your Nursing Team

nurse or doctor

Leaders in any field have the challenging task of bringing out the best in members of their teams. As a nursing leader, you must contend with a team working in a high-stress, fast-paced environment, responsible for the safety and well-being of patients. That’s a lot of pressure, and the way you choose to lead your team will directly impact their performance. 

There are many different leadership styles, and not all styles work for all teams. As a nursing leader, it’s important to understand your team both as a whole and as individuals. Choosing the best leadership style for your situation can help improve your team’s performance and help individual employees feel fulfilled and motivated. 

Established Leadership Styles

Every leader has their own unique leadership style because everyone does things a little bit differently. With that said, there are several established leadership styles that nursing leaders should be familiar with when developing their own leadership protocols. 

Affiliative Leadership 

In affiliative leadership, employee happiness is a top priority and transparency is critical. With open communication, employees can feel secure and frequently receive positive feedback from their supervisors, which helps prevent burnout. However, this style can result in conflict avoidance and reduced productivity. 

Democratic Leadership 

As the name suggests, the democratic leadership style is all about taking input from the team for decision-making. This helps empower nurses and allows them to feel invested in the success of the team. However, it can slow down decision-making, especially when there is no consensus. This can be a huge problem in a fast-paced medical environment. 

Transformational Leadership

A transformational leader can inspire employees, including them in a vision for the team’s work. Transformational leadership can help leaders build relationships with employees to encourage loyalty and hard work. The downside is that this style of leadership and work can accelerate burnout for some nurses. 

big black nurse

Laissez-Faire Leadership

Laissez-faire leadership gives nurses a lot of freedom to use their own judgment by virtue of being “hands-off.” This can help empower staff and allow them to experience professional growth, but it can be risky. Some people need more direction to thrive and do their best work. It can also be abused by leaders unwilling to problem-solve or direct their teams. 

Servant Leadership 

A leadership style that is often well-suited for nursing teams, servant leadership is about team development. The leader’s role is to encourage growth, listen, and create a sense of community. This can improve morale and help nurses grow their skills. However, it can take a long time to build the trust needed for this model. 

Autocratic Leadership 

Autocratic leaders make all the decisions, without input from their teams. This leadership style has largely fallen out of fashion due to the fact that it’s punishment-based and does not promote good morale among teams. However, it can be helpful in emergency situations. 

Priorities in Nursing Leadership 

Many leadership styles aren’t quite right for most nursing teams. The hospital environment is fast-paced, and it isn’t always possible to make room for participative strategies. Additionally, errors in a medical setting can lead to life-threatening harm, making it essential for leaders to prioritize safety. 

Morale is also an ongoing concern for nursing teams. Not only do nurses work long hours on their feet, but they also typically work with sick and dying patients, which takes an emotional toll. Leaders must focus on helping their employees prevent burnout and feel fulfilled so they will stay in the field and perform at peak levels. 

Knowing Your Own Strengths and Weaknesses

Your work environment, along with your team’s working style, strengths, and weaknesses will help you choose your leadership style. However, your own strengths and weaknesses matter too. You need to be able to inspire confidence in your team and build trust with the nurses you supervise. The best way to do that is to match your leadership style with your strengths. 

Use Data to Drive Decision-Making 

Regardless of which leadership style you choose, nurse leaders should be using data to help drive their decision-making. Healthcare data collection and analysis infrastructures have become so robust that many nurse leaders can leverage insights to help their team reduce errors and improve outcomes. In today’s data-driven world, it’s a must for nurse leaders to understand how data can be used to positively affect team performance. 

Choosing Elements from Different Styles

Although there are established leadership styles, that doesn’t mean your leadership approach has to match one style to the letter. You can choose a framework that works best for your team, then modify it with other elements if needed. That way, you can tailor your leadership approach to suit your and your team’s strengths. 

You can also switch between leadership styles, should the need arise. This is known as situational leadership, and it can be helpful in environments with a lot of variability in the day-to-day work.

However, most nursing leaders find that choosing their favorite leadership styles works for the majority of situations that can occur in the hospital environment. 


Becoming an effective leader takes practice, trial, and error. It’s important to stay open and to continue learning as you progress in your career. Nursing teams need confident, communicative leaders who aren’t afraid to change and adapt as needed for the welfare of the team and the patients they care for.