1. Zangerle, Claire M. DNP, MBA, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, FAONL

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Q I recognize that ensuring my areas of responsibility are operating efficiently requires me to be a transactional leader. However, I value leading my team to constantly improve and plan for the future, which requires me to be more transformational. How can I blend these two leadership styles for the betterment of my scope of responsibility?


Management consultants and academics distinctly define these two styles of leadership. Transactional leadership is managing employees by setting goals and offering rewards. Transformational leadership is the absence of micromanaging. It is nurturing and motivating employees to be innovative in their work.1 However, for purposes of answering the question posed, let's reapproach the definitions to fit the current climate of nursing leadership.


As a nurse leader, you conduct certain transactions such as staff scheduling, quality audits, payroll submission, and addressing family concerns. These are essential tasks that ensure unit operations run smoothly. Concurrently, you direct the team to think creatively and strategically to continually improve; for example, to enhance employee engagement, create new staffing models, bolster unit-based professional governance, and improve quality metrics.


Balancing the essentials of transactions and the visions of transformation has become somewhat unbalanced in recent years, given the demands during the pandemic, which has been perfectly appropriate. Sometimes that perfect balance must be disrupted to achieve necessary harmony, but if, over time, normalization doesn't occur, there's a risk to operations and growth. Consider the following three strategies to blend these two important leadership styles.


1. Recognize the value of both transactions and transformation. Neither leadership style is better than the other, and the two are not mutually exclusive. It depends on the situation, but generally, it's best to blend the styles. Exceptional nurse leaders know when to roll up their sleeves to get the work done and when to create a path allowing others to do the work themselves. For example, a CNO will advocate for new hospital beds and provide a compelling business case to the finance team; they are successful in procuring those beds (transformational). On the day of delivery, that CNO and their leadership team show up on the units en masse to help switch out the old beds to the new ones to reduce the burden on the staff (transactional). Toggling between both results in the desired outcome.


2. Develop transformational skills to create transactional authenticity. Creating a followership is an essential trait of any leadership style, in general, but particularly important for transformational leaders. Given the inherent definition of the style (creating strategy, fostering organizational change), the leader must be able to rally their teams to adopt necessary change. Only through building trust, inspiring others, and building credibility can this be achieved. Developing these skills, early and often, contributes to building valuable support from the team when changes to operations are essential to optimal work area functioning. The team needs to believe in you as the leader before they can fully embrace the authenticity of your transactions. Again, this demonstrates these two styles aren't mutually exclusive and can be blended into a holistic leadership style.


3. Sweat the details; the result will be remarkable transformation. Transformational leaders aren't generally detail-oriented but given the nature of your work as a nurse leader, that's just not possible. It's feasible to be a subject-matter expert and know the content well, yet not micromanage. Trust the team to manage the details and use you as a sounding board on the direction if needed, such that you can elevate their work, leading to better outcomes.


Being proficient in blending these leadership styles can only benefit you as a nurse leader and the teams you lead. Don't feel like you have to be one or the other; seek the appropriate balance of each to create the harmony that makes you a holistic leader. Doing so will lead you to become the nurse leader all nurses want to work for.




1. Michigan State University. Transactional vs. transformational leadership: what's the difference? 2021. [Context Link]