Leadership Style and Change Management in Healthcare


Regardless of the industry, the concept of leadership has been central to the success of all human operations. The role of a leader is indispensable and it consists of inspiring the followers, providing them with the means and motivation to achieve the required results. Evidently, the exact features of effective leadership cannot be fixed nor universal. They vary across time and settings, as each context requires a different approach depending on the parameters of the situation. Thus, effective leadership in healthcare is a separate discipline with its own features and particularities. These details are dictated by the special status of healthcare as an essential sphere of human activity integral to the proper functioning of society.

Healthcare managers face an overarching objective of balancing the costs and efficiency of services with improved patient outcomes and experiences. Amid this pursuit, the well-being of medical unit members often receives insufficient attention. At the same time, nurses and doctors remain subject to excessive workload and stress that lead to professional burnout (Waddill-Goad, 2019). As such, advanced self-care opportunities for medical workers become a matter of paramount importance. This paper examines the role of leadership style in the creation of such opportunities in the clinical environment.

Background of the Problem

The phenomenon of professional burnout among nurses and other members of clinical teams has become a subject of intense interest for experts and researchers in the field of healthcare. The increased level of attention to the matter at hand is conditioned by both its prevalence and the strong impact that it has on the industry. Waddill-Goad (2019) states that “the profession of nursing is prone to experience stress due to the intense nature of the work” (p. 44). In other words, the particularities of the job create a favorable environment for the development of major psychological complications that culminate in burnout.

In its general understanding, professional burnout is a state of mental exhaustion instilled by the exposure to strong stressors within the professional environment without the means to counteract their effect by positive activities (Szczygiel & Mikolajczak, 2018). The prevalence of this disorder among medical professionals, namely nurses, is a pressing concern for the community. When exposed to the detrimental effect of burnout, people lose the ability to concentrate on the job, demonstrating a subpar performance. Consequently, the quality of care decreases, affecting the patients and the system, in general.

In order to address the situation and prevent it from deteriorating, it is vital to implement meaningful changes that will improve the work environment for nurses. As can be inferred from the definition provided by Szczygiel and Mikolajczak (2018), the stressors are often unavoidable. However, their negative effect should be mitigated by the presence of positivity and opportunities to improve personal well-being.

Aside from manageable loads and the ability to maintain a healthier work-life balance, better self-care options are considered within the framework of the discussed issue. More specifically, nurses should have the time and resources to partake in relaxing activities, such as meditations, yoga, massages and mindfulness practice. However, the implementation of these opportunities requires considerable efforts on behalf of clinical leaders. In this regard, the approach to leadership is expected to align with the overarching purpose of the initiative.

Leadership Style Characteristics

While the core of the concept of leadership possesses universally acknowledged characteristics, the details of it vary depending on the specific managerial context. As such, the discipline exhibits several prominent theories of leadership that can applied in different situations with a varying degree of effectiveness. In order to maximize the effectiveness of managerial efforts, it is vital to rely on a fitting framework that aligns with the setting and its requirements, as well as the specific goals and challenges faced by the organization (Salihu, 2019).

In the context of healthcare, the variety of options is further complemented by the complex nature of the sphere. This industry retains its essential status within society, as it aims to protect and improve the health and well-being of its members. Furthermore, the field possesses an array of stakeholders, including patients, clinical teams, insurance companies, and the state itself. Thus, many managers struggle to maintain the right balance, and the lack thereof creates the conditions in which nurses shortly develop the signs of burnout. Ultimately, the necessity of selecting the correct approach to leadership requires a review of prominent paradigms of management.

Trait Theory of Leadership

The trait theory of leadership dates back to earlier studies that appeared at the dawn of management studies as a discipline. According to Bake (2019), this model is one of the oldest, as its postulates were first introduced in the 19th century. As per the trait theory, the ability to lead followers is conditioned by the specific qualities exhibited by a person. In other words, there exists a certain set of traits that determine whether an individual is suitable for a leadership position. In spite of being one of the fundamental approaches to management, this theory appears questionable in the current environment, especially in the case of healthcare.

If one is to assume that its principles are correct, it will create certain disparities, meaning that the effective leadership is predetermined by nature and character. This idea creates a sense of entitlement, as the lack of such traits will close the path to quality management is only open for a select few. Moreover, the trait theory does not reflect the complexity of the modern landscape, which is embedded in healthcare.

Contingency Leadership

The contingency theory of leadership proposes an opposing approach to the paradigm of the trait model. More specifically, this approach suggests that the effectiveness of the leader is determined by his or her ability to address a particular situation in terms of the managerial style (Salihu, 2019).

The contingency theory refutes the ideas of universal leadership qualities and paradigms, relying on adaptation and flexibility as the keys to better managerial outcomes. Thus, the only crucial trait within its framework is the ability to analyze the context critically. Situational leadership, which is another name to this theory, recognizes the complexity of professional environments, which is important for healthcare, as well. Each situation possesses varying sets of variables that may alter the context to a significant degree. This idea is essential for the field of healthcare, as the work of a nurse largely consist of navigating between different variables and selecting the optimal mode of work in new situations.

Transactional and Transformational Leadership

In the modern institute of leadership, researchers and experts often rely on the dichotomy of the transactional and transformational leadership styles. The first model relies on supervision and internal organization as the core of the process. Transactional leaders use a well-defined system of rewards and punishments, focusing on immediate goals and tasks within the work process. The purpose of this approach is to ensure discipline and completion of all goals, which is often achieved through micromanagement. The chain of command is clearly established in this case, and the efficiency of work is achieved through subordination.

Failure and success are also clearly defined, which serves to motivate the followers through the presence of two possible outcomes (Salihu, 2019). Accordingly, transactional leadership focuses heavily on the short-term perspective and practices a step-by-step approach to global objectives. However, the scope of its implementation appears to be highly limited, as few professional contexts will benefit from these methods. For healthcare workers, who are already placed under immense stress, the defined prospects of punishment will only contribute to the development of burnout.

On the other hand, the model of transformational leadership introduces a different perspective on achieving the goals. Within its framework, an emphasis is laid on the alignment of values and opinions. Transformational leaders are not limited by the immediate tasks of their organizations. On the contrary, they aim further, creating a more distant picture while providing their followers with a certain liberty to make their own decisions (Salihu, 2019). The purpose is to attain the overarching objective without confining the followers to one specific path. Thus, transformational leaders operate on the more global level of images, concepts, and ideas. They ensure that their positions are synchronized with the workers, engaging their motivation on a more profound level than a simple choice of reward and punishment. In this case, success is attained through mutual understanding and sincere willingness to perform well.

Recommendations and Conclusions

Considering the nature of the discussed issue, it appears possible to rely on the transformational leadership as the most suitable means of improvement. The problem of nurses’ burnout encompasses the entire field of healthcare, making it necessary to address it on higher levels. It is not only a matter of personal concern that nurses need to resolve on their own. If medical teams become subject to burnout, its implications will have a lasting impact on the functioning of the whole unit, organization, and system.

Overstressed nurses cannot accomplish their work-related tasks with full dedication and motivation. On the contrary, the lack of engagement translates into medical errors and miscommunication with both patients and coworkers. As a result, the quality of care decreases to a considerable extent, which entails further complications for all stakeholders. Patients experience poorer outcomes, associated with increased morbidity and readmission rates. In turn, medical organizations sustain additional costs and even lose a portion of their budgets due to the underperformance.

If executed correctly, transformational leadership can address the problem with a sufficient possibility of success. As dictated by the principles of this model, healthcare and nursing leaders will make meaningful attempts to acquire an in-depth understanding of the issue. For the proposed self-care interventions to have a lasting positive impact, it will not suffice to make superficial conclusions. On the contrary, healthcare managers need to understand the problem as a whole with its roots, current state, and possible implications.

The alignment of values will play the crucial role, as transformational leaders make sincere attempts to see the position of their followers. The mere sessions of massage and yoga will not yield long-term improvements without dedication. Therefore, leaders are to understand why these interventions are important for nurses who experience stress and excessive workload on a daily basis. Moreover, the transformational paradigm has the potential to prompt more profound changes in the system that will address the root of the problem by rearranging the work process on an institutional level. This way, professional burnout will be prevented instead of simply being cured.


Bake, M. (2019). The importance of leadership and employee retention. Radiologic Technology, 90(3), 279–281.

Salihu, M. J. (2019). A conceptual analysis of the leadership theories and proposed leadership framework in higher education. Asian Journal of Education and Social Studies, 5(4), 1–6.

Szczygiel, D. D., & Mikolajczak, M. (2018). Emotional intelligence buffers the effects of negative emotions on job burnout in nursing. Frontiers in Psychology. Web.

Waddill-Goad, S. M. (2019). Stress, fatigue, and burnout in nursing. Journal of Radiology Nursing, 38(1), 44–46. Web.

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