1. Lockhart, Lisa MHA, MSN, RN, NE-BC

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Q: What's transformational leadership and how's it relevant to nursing?

A: Transformational leadership is a method of managing individuals in a diverse and changing environment that enables team members to feel empowered. This type of leadership is motivating and morale enhancing. It creates a positive environment in which team members become change agents. The transformational leader is a flexible role model who's proactive in the change process. A truly transformational leader encourages the growth and development of staff, and utilizes a shared governance approach to management. The very nature of transformational leadership makes it perfect for nursing.

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This style of leadership was first described by James Macgregor Burns in 1978 while researching political leaders. Burns noted two types of leaders: transformational and transactional. The latter refers to leaders who affect change within an existing culture; the transformational leader differs in that he or she strives to alter the existing culture.


Healthcare is a dichotomy of culture and change; however, many organizations are resistant to change, which can create significant growth deterrence; low morale; and poor quality in the workplace and, most important, in patient care. The transactional leader attempts to glean results within this existing framework, whereas the transformational leader focuses on not just getting results, but also obtaining those results through staff development. This leader will utilize shared governance to effect needed changes, policy alterations, quality and process improvements, and group development, allowing team members to lead themselves. One of my mentors once said, "I will know I have done my job well when you no longer need me, but can lead yourselves." What a powerful statement!


Qualities of the successful transformational leader include motivation, stimulation, consideration, and influence. Motivation refers to the leader's ability to inspire and share his or her vision, which translates into spending one-on-one time with team members, learning from them, understanding what inspires them, and determining their goals and vision for success. Listen to what they have to say, don't just hear to respond. Nurture their intellectual and creative spirit. Create an environment that not only stimulates growth, but also develops a desire to create growth. Be a role model, seek self-improvement, look to problem solve, admit when you're wrong, and put the team first. Instill in your team the ideas and values of shared governance, and assist them in learning what that truly means.


Research shows us that the development of a transformational leadership style improves staff satisfaction, reduces turnover, strengthens the group's commitment to the organization, and increases care quality and patient satisfaction. By empowering your team members and encouraging the development of their collaborative skill set, you'll set the stage for growth and development. You'll foster excellence and enhance those qualities valued by the team members who actually perform the work. This is a win for your patients, your staff, and your organization.


Important to note is that you don't have to be a nurse manager to be a transformational leader. Nurses in all settings have the ability to inspire and effect change. What's your leadership style?