Leadership Theories in a Healthcare Setting

In current healthcare settings, stressful situations, workforce shortages, and work overload define healthcare workers’ difficulties. The role of the healthcare leaders is to be able to face these challenges and find the methods to overcome the obstacles to make the clinic provide efficient care. At the same time, they should guarantee the job satisfaction of the nurses and a good relationship between the employees and managers. Consequently, the understanding of the existing leadership approaches and views is crucial in this situation. Clinical nurse specialists should apply the behavior and trait theories of leadership to their work to improve the satisfaction of employees and clients and define the necessary traits and the possibilities of biased attitudes.

Behavioral leadership theory is the theory that regards the leaders from the perspective of their behavior. Notably, it plays a crucial role in the development of leadership skills. According to this concept, people have the opportunity to become leaders even if they do not possess specific qualities. A person can achieve good results by copying various patterns of behavior and acting according to particular strategies. The most significant characteristic elements of the theory are the styles of conduct that determine how the leaders cope with difficulties, communicate with the employees, and organize their work.

The first attempts to use the concept of behavior in leadership were associated with the studies that observed the styles of supervision. Lewin and Lippitt were among the first authors of the theory because they described various types of behavior as the basis of the features of different leaders (Shafique and Beh, 2017). In 1938, they attempted to define the role of behavior in the leadership characteristics of managers. This analysis resulted in the introduction of different styles of conduct of the leaders. According to Deshwal and Ashraf Ali (2020), such studies as Ohio and Michigan observations provided the chance to set the framework for the theory. Likert conducted a study that determined such aspects of the theory as the divide between the leaders on those who focus on the task and those who concentrate on people (Allen, 2018). He was also one of the principal authors of the theory because he explained various leadership styles, influencing future research on the topic.

The strengths of this theory are determined by the opportunities that it provides to the leaders. Mainly, it allows them to master their skills and learn new methods of implementing their responsibilities even when they have no innate talent. Consequently, they always have the chance to improve their performance because leadership is perceived as a skill that people can develop. Northouse (2021) emphasizes that the main difference of this theory is its focus on the behavior rather than the personal qualities of the individuals that humans cannot alter, which determines the main strength of this attitude. Hammond, Clapp-Smith and Palanski (2017, p. 484), in the analysis of the leadership qualities in different domains, explain that “a leader identity changes and develops through the use of various tactics.” This idea defines the role of behavior in the development of a leader as an expert.

The next strength of this approach is the ability of the leaders to use the example of other leaders to achieve their goals. In particular, they can be flexible in various situations because they know what different strategies exist. They can use the experience of the most successful leaders to avoid mistakes and start their careers as a leader with minor losses. For instance, Bakker (2017, p.69) displays the research results that determine that “employee work attitudes” improve due to the transformations in the behavior of the managers. This illustration indicates that the use of knowledge about the specific patterns of behavior and their realization in practice contributes to improving employees’ performance and work satisfaction.

The limitations of the behavioral theory stem from the absence of particular strategies that can explain how to act. Although this theory may help any person to become a leader by copying the behavior of other successful managers, it fails to demonstrate what particular move people should take in various cases. This problem is connected with the concept that a person may have no inner qualities of a leader and may not comprehend intuitively what consequences this person’s behavior may have. Babiak, Bajcar and Nosal (2016, p. 107) identified that the “authentic managerial leading styles” require the specific abilities of the leaders to define what step they should take to solve the issue successfully. This fact signifies that the failure of the theory to explain the role of some behaviors in the development of the situations makes the leaders confused in cases when they have little experience.

The additional weakness of the theory is its concentration on people’s conduct and omitting the facts proving that not only conduct but also the character of a person should be considered. Kouzes and Posner (2019, p. 829) demonstrate that leaders with a “fixed mindset” have fewer chances to interact effectively with the employees. This fact suggests that not only behavior but also other factors determine the growth of leadership skills. Consequently, not all humans can become leaders even if they follow and copy the behavior of other leaders.

The trait theory, on the contrary, focuses on the individual qualities of a person, considering that they play the primary role in the ability of people to become leaders. This approach developed from the Great Man theory, which explains that people should be born leaders, focusing on the exceptionality of these humans. The central element of the theory is the inner qualities of humans that allow them to be born leaders and use this talent to climb the career ladder. Consequently, this approach focuses on various traits that characterize a person. Harrison (2017, p. 19) introduces such specific traits as “intelligence, alertness to the needs of others, insight, initiative, self-confidence” as the critical factors in the development of a person’s leadership. This focus on traits rather than behavior is the primary distinction of this theory from the previous approach.

This theory emerged from the early stages of the history of humanity when the philosophers in different states observed the characteristic features of their leaders. Antonakis (2017) displays that such philosophers as Plato and Aristotle already examined the concept of leadership in their works. It signifies that the theory can be traced back to the era of Ancient Greece. Stogdill’s analysis of individuals’ characteristics in 1948 was the first attempt to understand how they influenced people’s performance (Adams, 2020). His observation of the behavior of different groups reveals that those who have leadership qualities have more chances to be accepted as leaders by their teammates. Since his work was the first proper attempt to approach the concept of traits, he can be considered the author of the theory.

The strong points of the theory of traits are related to its ability to apply the natural qualities of each person to explain their role in the leader’s talent. The first strength is that people can use the approach in different assessments of human conduct. Remarkably, the theory provides the standard points that help the scholars study the traits’ role and understand how to use this knowledge in business environments. For instance, Lievens et al. (2018, p.753) indicate that the analysis of the additional aspect of human personality, “individual variability”, might help to increase the scope of investigation of human abilities to become leaders. Thus, the trait theory concepts help the researchers to find new methods in assessment practices.

The second strength concerns the existence of a vast range of research and theoretical background that defines the validity of the ideas associated with the approach. This theory is used in multiple studies because it presents comprehensive and structured data that allow scholars to study the concept of leadership in detail. For example, it is used to analyze the leadership styles of Chinese females (Chao, 2017). Besides, the theory provides the chance to comprehend the leader element when the leader acts. It helps people understand what particular aspects of their behavior may determine their ability to become leaders. Asrar-ul-Haq and Anwar (2018) examine various character features, clarifying that some of them play an essential role in the development of leadership. Although the theory has multiple strong points, it also has some limitations.

The primary weakness of the theory is its tendency to disregard the personal efforts and attempts of a person to achieve some goals. Kollenscher, Popper, and Ronen display that the approach still needs improvements because it “relies on biased or partial assumptions” (2016, p.19). This statement reveals that the theory focuses on a predominant idea that people should be born leaders to manage and guide groups. Jayawickreme and Fleeson (2017, p. 78) support this criticism of the theory, indicating that if people could have leadership qualities from their birth, anyone could predict that individual’s behavior. This suggestion explains that people cannot predict whether particular individuals would become managers or not in their childhood. Consequently, this restriction of the theory includes controversial ideas that can prevent a person from attempting to reach their goals. Cragg and Spurgeon (2018, p. 33) declare that specific skills allow people to become effective leaders, noting that the limitations of their opportunities make them fail to develop these skills. Consequently, this theory restricts the prospects of individuals.

Furthermore, this approach is criticized for its focus on predominantly masculine qualities, ignoring the other psychological aspects of personality assessment. Mainly, such characteristics as ambition, self-confidence, energy, initiative, and tenacity characterize men more than women (Chow, Mohd. Salleh and Arif Ismail, 2017). Jibirin Salihu (2019, p. 3) indicates that the trait theory focuses on a restricted set of people’s characteristics and disregards such concepts as “values, expertise, cognitive abilities, social skills”. This identification of the leaders’ character features demonstrates that this theory ignores such qualities as gratitude, communication, and empathy because the scholars consider them less inherent traits. Sims (2016, p. 19) determined that such features as “openness and agreeableness for active-empathic listening” played a considerable role in the effectiveness of the leaders. This fact illustrates that the scholars should regard more features and parameters to make them correspond to the current needs in business and interpersonal relations development.

Clinical nurse specialists may benefit from the application of the behavioral theory in their practice. Since they often work as managers, controlling and supervising the nurse’s performance, they have to know how to improve the treatment of the employees to guarantee positive communication and effective cooperation. Nurse specialists should understand what patterns of behavior are appropriate for leaders. According to Lorber, Treven and Mumel (2018), the behavior of the leaders in clinical settings affects the job satisfaction of the nurses in Slovenian hospitals, making them more committed to their job if they feel the support of the managers. The other research identified that such aspects of the leaders’ conduct in healthcare situations as behavioral integrity determined the engagement of nurses and their performance (Prottas and Nummelin, 2018, p. 412). Xu (2017) observed various theories of leadership in healthcare settings. The scholar concluded that knowledge and attempts to apply different behavior styles help the nurse specialists establish effective relationships with the employees. This fact reveals that the application of this theory to nursing managers’ practice contributes to leadership effectiveness.

The additional advantage of the ability of the nurse specialists to apply behavioral theory in their practice is its influence on the clients. For instance, Tortorella, van Dun and de Almeida (2019) explain that the nurse managers’ task-oriented behavior might help them incorporate the lean leader strategies into their everyday activities. Lean behaviors, the conduct aimed at contributing to the customer value with lesser waste of time and improving quality, become possible if the nurse specialists can manage their behavior. Sfantou et al. (2017, p. 73) defined that “resonant leadership style was related to lower 30-day mortality.” This fact also proves that the ability of the nurse managers to choose the people-oriented style of leadership results in the improvement of client satisfaction.

The application of trait theory might help healthcare specialists understand what traits are significant in their work, how they influence their performance and help them overcome obstacles. Such issues as increased workload, high risk of illness, and stressful environment may prevent effective performance in the healthcare setting. The scholar van de Riet et al. (2019) observed the most significant aspects of effective medical practice among the leaders, concluding that all the analysts shared the idea that personal features were central factors. They claimed that communication skills determine how the nurses would understand and follow the instructions of the nurse managers. Berghout et al. (2017) analyzed the ability of healthcare leaders to unite their managerial responsibilities and their medical practice to define that specific traits allow them to find balance. Whitby (2018, p. 32) evaluated the role of the particular features identifying that “appropriate use of authority” was one of the significant methods to overcome various obstacles in healthcare settings. This idea reveals that nurse specialists may use the trait theory knowledge to comprehend how it may contribute to solving multiple problems.

In addition, the application of trait theory might help the leaders assess the role of gender prejudices in the healthcare environment. Since one of the theory’s weaknesses is its focus on particular masculine traits, the knowledge of these specifics might help the managers be objective and impartial. Kalaitzi et al. (2017) regarded the leadership opportunities of females identifying that they have an important number of barriers that prevent them from promotion. This analysis helps to realize that the knowledge of the difference in the people’s features of character defines the effective functioning of the clinic. At the same time, the comprehension of the specific female traits helping them be successful leaders also influences the ability of the leaders to make proper choices. For example, Czabanowska et al. (2017) described that the number of females having leadership roles in Poland increased because women learned how to use their traits. The healthcare specialists’ ability to identify the necessary nurses’ qualities allows them to instruct and supervise the employees paying attention to their abilities to provide counseling, conduct physical examinations, and coordinate their efforts with the other healthcare workers.

Thus, clinical nurse specialists should use the knowledge of behavior and trait theories to know how to guarantee the employee’s and clients’ satisfaction and proper attitude to people’s traits. The behavior theory explains that the conduct of humans defines their leadership characteristics. The strength of this approach is the provision of opportunity for any person to become a leader. The limitation is its narrow focus on the behavior. The trait theory regards the role of innate traits in the development of a leader. Although it helps assess human conduct and introduces vast theoretical explanations, it is limited by focusing on traits and masculine character features. Applying these theories in the practice of clinical nurse specialists is a significant contribution to the ability of these managers to cope with stressful environments and various issues at work. They can improve the relationship with the employees and guarantee their work engagement. In addition, it can contribute to the satisfaction of the clients. Finally, knowing the specific traits might help identify what particular characteristics to develop and avoid biased attitudes toward the leaders.

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