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Leadership Qualities of a Transformational Nurse

Nursing student

7 Leadership Qualities of a Transformational Nurse Manager


There are leadership roles everywhere and the nursing field is no exception. Wherever people are needed to accomplish tasks, an element of leadership is necessary in order to complete said processes. However, as all of us know, not all leaders are created equal.


In instances where objectives are met and success can be observed, the leaders overseeing those tasks and teams could consider themselves effective leaders. Perhaps you yourself hold a position of leadership in this type of case. But your team’s production of positive metrics or improvement based on applicable criteria doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve proven yourself to be a transformational leader.


By aspiring beyond measurable objectives and instead learning how to become a transformational leader, you will not only hone your managerial skills and become a more effective leader but you will also help everyone you lead to grow in their own personal and professional skills. The following seven tips will help you develop from a transactional manager into a transformational leader.


Recognize the Differences Between Transactional Leadership and Transformational Leadership


Molly Hamilton describes transactional leadership in her work “The Interaction of Transactional and Transformational Leadership” this way: “Transactional leadership can be summarized simply as transactions between leaders and subordinates, in an effort to improve performance of subordinates” (p. 4). Conversely, as quoted by Hamilton, “Transformational leadership ‘Occurs when leaders broaden and elevate the interests of their employees, when they generate awareness and acceptance of the purposes and mission of the group, and when they stir their employees to look beyond their own self-interest for the good of the group’”. The subtle difference in trajectory between the two leadership schemas ultimately results in completely different scenarios with regard to group potential, growth, and chemistry.


Be Willing to Change Your Approach


“James MacGregor Burns, a historian and political scientist who introduced the concept of transformational leadership in 1978, defined it as a process in which ‘leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation’” (Sherman, “What Followers Want in their Nurse Leaders”). This conflicts with many of the more conventional leadership constructs available to us that emphasize control and separation from followers. To truly achieve transformational leadership requires a fundamental shift in the ideas most of us have about what it takes to be in charge.


Leaders who insist on maintaining control and require their subordinates to remain dependent on them by remaining inferior or less skilled will never attain transformational leadership and will instead remain transactional leaders. While they may prove themselves effective on paper or according to their production numbers, their followers will never experience the life-changing development their superior could have affected. In order to become a transformational leader, you must be willing to change your approach and give up some of your control so that the team can excel and grow.


Start with a Vision, Not a Goal


Mark McCloskey describes a fundamental part of transformational leadership this way: “At the headwaters of transformational leadership is a compelling vision and a configuration of core values, not tasks or goals. When transformational leaders engage potential followers with a credible and compelling vision, shared values, and the high performance expectations attached to these, the cumulative effect of this engagement results in substantive change, indeed a transformation of moral and ethical dimension in the lives of both followers and leaders” (“What is Transformational Leadership?”).


Uniting your followers through a shared vision will produce lasting bonds and dedication far more effectively than the promise of material gains like a paycheck or elevated status.


Know Your Followers


Being able to motivate and inspire your followers requires that you first get to know them. By first ascertaining their personal motivations and desires, you can mesh their personal needs with the greater vision of the entire team and thus inspire the cohesion and unity that transformational leadership facilitates. The transformational leader “‘Gives personal attention, treats each employee individually, coaches, (and) advises’” (Hamilton, “The Interaction of Transactional and Transformational Leadership”).


Doing so will not only strengthen the cohesion of your team and your relationships with each of your followers but will draw your followers into the team’s mission and can thus elicit better performance.


Seek Feedback from Your Followers


It is sometimes difficult to ask your subordinates for their feedback regarding your performance and leadership. To do so can sometimes cause a painful examination of your own weaknesses and failings. The transactional leader usually avoids any discussion or investigation into their own fallibility because the purely transactional bond between them and their followers could suffer damage if followers were asked to point out the leader’s weaknesses. However, the transformational leader takes an opposite approach.


By asking their followers to help point out the areas in which they could be better, transformational leaders invite their followers into the development process and model a beneficial behavior their followers can emulate. By accepting their fallibility and dealing with it in a healthy way, their approachability will ultimately instill a deeper trust in them from their followers than if the leader tried to hide or deny their weaknesses.


Diligently Pursue Your Own Personal Development


“The person doing the transformational leading must be in the process of transformation himself or herself” (McCloskey, “What is Transformational Leadership?”). This can be done in myriad ways. In addition to seeking feedback from your subordinates as mentioned above, make a point to sit down with superiors or peers with the purpose of discussing your performance and how you can grow. Don’t wait for performance reviews to get feedback on your conduct.


Being proactive about learning not only allows you to grow, but will show both your superiors and your followers that you recognize the importance of personal development. Everyone has room to improve – and the only people that do are the ones who make it a priority.


Don’t Be Afraid to Create Leaders


When a person is placed in a management role over subordinates, they make think it counter-intuitive to focus on developing those subordinates into leaders themselves. However, that mindset characterizes transactional leadership that might effectively manage, but will never effectively develop others. Transformational leaders, by their very nature, are in the business of helping their followers develop into future leaders.


According to Eileen DesAutels Wiltshire, “These types of leaders intend to stimulate the growth and development of their followers, their organizations, and themselves. When transformational leaders look at their followers, they see the next generation of leaders” (“Transformational Leadership: What’s Your Motivation?”).


By incorporating the tips above into your managerial actions and lifestyle, you can develop yourself into a more effective leader. Not only will you see improved quantitative results over time, but you will begin to observe qualitative results in the ways that your followers respond to you and, ultimately, grow as a result of your influence in their lives.

About ADU Online

Adventist University started building its solid foundation for nursing education in 1908 when it began training nurses so healthcare could be provided for more people. Today they offer cutting edge education and experienced faculty dedicated to helping individuals interested in pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing degree.



“Revisiting Fundamental Concepts of Transformational Leadership Theory: A Closer Look at Follower Developmental Processes.” Michael Lippstreu. 2010. <>


“The Interaction of Transactional and Transformational Leadership.” Molly Hamilton. <>

“Transformational Leadership: What’s Your Motivation?” Eileen DesAutels Wiltshire. Regent University. 2012. <>


“What Followers Want in their Nurse Leaders.” Rose Sherman. 2012. <>


“What is Transformational Leadership?” Mark McCloskey. <>