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What Is Nursing Leadership?

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A nurse leader is a nurse practitioner (NP) who can inspire others to work together in pursuit of a common goal, such as enhanced patient care. Leadership can be formal, wherein authority is given by the health care organization; or it can be informal, and the NP increases the "efficiency of the work flow," according to the book, ¨Effective Leadership and Management in Nursing".

Leadership roles

A nurse leader may be involved in designing a new procedure, or challenging the ethics of a new institutional policy. She may also consult with the patient, or the patient's family regarding the most effective way to administer treatments. Nurse leadership is a must in hospices and emergency rooms, because of the extreme stress and intense emotions of the patients there.

Leadership qualities

A nursing leader has a distinctive set of personal qualities: integrity, courage, initiative, ability to handle stress and keen self-awareness, according to "Essentials of Nursing Leadership and Management". These qualities help the NP handle the situations that come up in professional nursing.


The nursing leader must think critically, set goals and skillfully communicate. Along with that, the nurse leader must be empathetic, recognizing and participating in the emotional state of others. According to "Handbook of Nursing Leadership," current and future nursing leaders have to exhibit flexible interpersonal skills; the ability to integrate new ideas quickly, be collaborative, use interdisciplinary teams and delegate planning and work.


There are four major leadership styles, according to "Effective Leadership and Management in Nursing", and the most effective nursing leader is able to employ any of these styles, depending on the current circumstance of the patient. Styles include, "autocratic," which has the leader making all decisions and directing all behaviors; "democratic," in which the leader encourages participation of the staff and uses a consensus for decision making; "laissez-faire," the leader leaves the staff alone to work with no direction or facilitation; "bureaucratic," wherein the leader relies solely on the policies and rules of the organization for decision making.


Nurse leaders and managers often must balance two aspects of leadership: the aspect that needs to initiate structure, and an employee-centered perspective. The nurse leader, in initiating structure, must organize and define work goals, work patterns, methods and channels of communication. The leader must also be considerate to the employee and foster mutual trust and rapport.

  • "Essentials of Nursing Leadership and Management"; Ruth Tappen, Sally Weiss, Diane Whitehead; 1998
  • "Effective Leadership and Management in Nursing"; Eleanor Sullivan, Phillip Decker; 2005
  • "Handbook of Nursing Leadership"; Jeri Milstead, Elizabeth Furlong; 2006