Nursing Leaders: How to Apply the 4 Components of Transformational Leadership

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The most effective nurses thrive under strong leadership from their nursing leaders, managers or supervisors. It’s no surprise, then, that the management style and overall morale set by the nursing leader directly correlates with attitudes and outcomes of the nursing staff.

Leadership styles, however, are as varied as the leaders who embody them. And, though leadership can manifest in many forms, modern nurse leaders may find the four main components of the transformational leadership style best resonate with their team:

  • Intellectual stimulation
  • Individualized consideration
  • Inspirational motivation
  • Idealized influence

What is transformational leadership and how does it apply to nursing?

As described by James McGregor Burns in 1978, transformational leaders “engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.” Nursing is a profession uniquely prepared to apply transformational leadership theory into all practice settings. Nursing requires compassion, hard work and integration into a hierarchical leadership structure that is often overburdened and ripe for change.

“Nurses may hold the key to transforming health care and dragging it into the 21st century in terms of work practices and reform,” according to Genevieve L. Thyer, RN, BN, MN, Dip Ed, in a transformational leadership theory/nursing article published in the Journal of Nursing Management. As the profession continues to grow (by a predicted 19 percent through 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), nurses can be a force for positive change.

If nurses hold the key, transformational leadership theory is the key.

Elizabeth Thompson, Rose Sherman and Molly Fitzke — prominent nurse leaders and educators — discussed four components of transformational leadership, often called the “4 Is”, and made suggestions about how to apply them to nursing:

Intellectual stimulation

Intellectual stimulation focuses on the nurse leader’s ability to facilitate and encourage his or her nursing staff to exercise problem solving and critical thinking skills, as well as creative and innovative approaches to daily tasks or other situations that arise. The nurse leader may accomplish this by addressing the situation, asking his or her nursing staff for ideas about how to handle it and encouraging them to contribute toward a resolution.

Individualized consideration

Individualized consideration requires the nurse leader to recognize and express concern appropriately about his or her nursing staff as individuals with their own strengths, needs and feelings. The nurse leader may accomplish this by mentoring and supporting each individual nurse’s growth through professional development opportunities.

Inspirational motivation

Inspirational motivation focuses on the nurse leader’s ability to inspire and motivate his or her nursing staff in a visible, active way and form nurturing relationships with nurses and other medical staff. The nurse leader may accomplish this by describing the vision or goal of health care delivery in their hospital and then encourage his or her nursing staff to fulfill their parts in bringing it to fruition by his or her own example.

Idealized influence

Idealized influence challenges the nurse leader to be an effective, positive role model by “walking the talk” and never requiring nursing staff to do something he or she would not do. The nurse leader may accomplish this by remaining consistent in words and actions that are professional and supportive of the hospital’s policies and procedures, and displaying positive traits such as honesty, dependability and enthusiasm for nursing and patient care.

In both clinical work settings and classrooms, transformational leadership practices have been shown to improve job satisfaction and patient outcomes — even enabling achievement of Magnet status. Such collaborative engagement brings leaders and followers together in pursuit of a shared vision, nurtures employees, directly addresses current nursing shortages and facilitates practical reform of lagging medical systems.

Strong nursing leadership is essential

The theories of transformational leadership can apply to any number of settings; however, one style of leadership may not work in every situation. Regardless of the type of leadership being applied, the need for strong nurse leaders exists in every health care organization. Thompson, Sherman and Fitzke offer commentary on the matter:

Elizabeth Thompson, MSN, RN, CNOR: Mayo Clinic’s editor-in-chief and nursing education specialist states that failure among nursing leaders “has been identified as a major contributor to errors,” particularly among perioperative, surgical and operating room nursing staff. She believes that all members of a team can take on a leadership role, and that truly good teams allow for and encourage the toggle of leadership exchange.

Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, FAAN: The director of the Nursing Leadership Institute and associate professor of nursing in the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing at Florida Atlantic University is “passionate about providing leadership development, coaching and giving career tips to emerging nurse leaders.” She points out those organizations with effective leadership experience immediate success by reducing turnover and retaining quality employees. Sherman uses her nursing leadership development blog, Emerging RN Leader, to provide tips and discuss topics of interest for professional development, to inspire nurse leaders to bring out the best in their nursing staff and to help them achieve exceptional results.

Molly Fitzke, EdD, MSN, RN: The nursing director and professor of nursing features leadership among nurses in her Critical Issues in Nursing blog. Fitzke explained that the best outcomes of a strong nursing leader among his or her staff are “staffing changes that will benefit the nurses, higher employee engagement and increased self-efficacy for the nurse and increased job satisfaction.”

edited by Kevin Phang

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