How Leadership Styles in Healthcare Impact a Staff

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

Change is the not-so-new normal in healthcare. The rapid evolution in clinical advancements, the pressures of regulatory and reimbursement changes along with the ever-present staffing challenges should cause us to regularly evaluate leadership and leadership styles.

Leadership Styles in Healthcare

Can we identify our own leadership style? Can we adapt that style so that it continues to be effective as we navigate through the changing landscape of healthcare? The first step in answering these questions is to establish your leadership style. The American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination (AANAC) categorizes leadership styles in healthcare into five buckets. The categories are based loosely on the 2004 Northouse publications.

  1. Laissez-Faire Leadership – This approach is best defined as “hands-off.”Typically, little direction is given to team members. The leader is somewhat unlikely to make decisions and the staff often act without direction or supervision. This style is unlikely to yield meaningful change which may make it a risky approach for healthcare leaders. Conversely, if a team is a well-oiled machine and has the metrics to prove that they are effective, this approach might be a good fit. However, it is likely that the effectiveness of this approach may diminish over time as the composition of the team changes. Healthcare leaders need to remain in a perpetual state of change readiness which may make this the least desirable of leadership styles for healthcare.
  2. Autocratic Leadership – This is the polar opposite of the laissez-faire approach. This leader will make all or most of the decisions for the team and is overtly uncomfortable with delegation. Typically, mistakes are poorly tolerated in this type of environment, which may result in a lack of transparency around quality and safety issues, making it difficult to improve in these areas. This approach may work well in emergency situations where there may be little time for collaborative decision-making. It may also work well in situations where an organization is trying to achieve zero defects, such as surgical timeouts. However, it may effectively stifle creative problem-solving among team members. When that happens the leader can lose access to valuable insights about improvement strategies from within the team.
  3. Democratic Leadership – While decisions may ultimately be made by a democratic leader, this leader is comfortable seeking and accepting input from team members and other stakeholders. Feedback is a two way street in departments led by this type of leader. Process improvement is a persistent need in healthcare, and this type of leadership works well for this task. It may not work so well in situations or environments where decisions need to be made rapidly and time is of the essence.
  4. Transformational Leadership – This type of leader uses inspiration, motivation, and intellectual stimulation to achieve results. This type of leadership requires relatively high levels of emotional IQ and a high level of comfort with both individual and group consideration in the leadership process. This type of leadership is an essential requirement in an organization that requires significant and/or rapid change. However, this leader may struggle with day-to-day management tasks.
  5. Servant Leadership – This leader may follow the path to a leadership role for more altruistic reasons than other leaders. They may have more of a desire to serve a greater purpose than to lead. This type of leader is strongly committed to serving team members by insuring that they have the training, equipment, and team work necessary to do their jobs. This leadership style will work well for strong and diverse teams where the leader may have a broad span of control and manages a team with extremely varied job functions. It may not work so well for poor-performing teams where definitive direction and accountability might be more beneficial than support.

Organizations can thrive while embracing and supporting a variety of leadership styles, but it is important to help the next generation of leaders in our organizations develop the successful leadership style that is most appropriate for their organizations and for their individual disciplines. You can help ensure that your leaders are growing into their roles by supporting them with great tools.

To learn more about how to drive real and lasting transformation in your leadership team, contact HealthStream to learn more about the Frontline Nurse Leadership Program. Learn more solutions from HealthStream for healthcare leadership development.