American healthcare needs leadership. Many agree that it is broken compared to other high-income, Western countries. The high cost of care is prohibitive to a large section of the population and many citizens cannot afford to buy insurance premiums.

There is a lack of transparency between healthcare providers and insurance companies. It can be difficult to find specialists, and when patients do, they often end up costing so much that patients choose not to pursue treatment.

These are global issues that affect the whole American healthcare system, but they also trickle down to individual institutions and affect the everyday treatment of patients.

Some of the most common issues that face healthcare institutions every day include the high cost of care, medical errors, overworked doctors and nurses and an inability to treat those who cannot pay.

Whether we are talking about the global issues that face healthcare or those that affect individual institutions, one thing is clear: there is a need for better leadership.

Health practitioners need to gain the necessary skills to help get institutions to a level where they can provide the kind of healthcare their communities need.

Enrolling in an executive MBA in healthcare management at a reputable institution such as the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management is one way to get those skills. The program brings together business and healthcare, with courses designed to equip healthcare practitioners with leadership skills. Students will learn about topics such as health technology, business analytics and policymaking. They also learn about innovation and change in healthcare as well as leadership and management. All course material is online and you can expect a moderate workload if you stay on top of your studies.

As you contemplate enrolling in an executive MBA in healthcare management, it is important to know a little bit about leadership in healthcare. What are the different styles and how can they be implemented?

Different styles of leadership in healthcare

Providing healthcare is a complex business. When a patient walks in through the doors of a hospital emergency room or a clinic, they need to register and have their vitals taken. They then describe their symptoms to a nurse who writes them down for the doctor. When they get to the physician, they are examined, and if tests are needed, the doctor produces the paperwork authorizing the necessary departments to conduct them.

After diagnosis and testing, the doctor needs to determine the best course of treatment and write a prescription. If the patient needs immediate care, the process is even more complicated. Everyone has to come together in a highly coordinated manner to dispense the best care they can to save lives. Imagine all this happening in a healthcare setting. Everything is moving quickly, and any delays could have catastrophic consequences. Every department in the hospital must be equipped with the right professionals and equipment.

It all requires careful management, and the facilities that do well are those that have the right leaders to coordinate everything.

The style of leadership matters. There are many leadership styles for healthcare managers, and their effectiveness is determined by where and how they are applied. A leadership style that works well in one institution may not necessarily work for another.

It is up to the manager to study their institution and determine what works best, and they should be willing to make changes based on the feedback they receive.

  • Transformational leadership

Transformational leadership is all about vision. The leader has a clear idea of what they would like their institution to look like, and they inspire and motivate others towards it.

Transformational leaders rely on their charisma and personality to inspire others. They share their vision in such a way that they get buy-in from those they lead.

The biggest challenge for the transformational leader is achieving alignment with their followers. While some may buy into their vision, others may feel that the goals that the leader sets are not realistic or important. It is the job of the leader to explore ways to bring everyone together so that they all work towards the same vision.

  • Charismatic leadership

This is all about a leader’s personal qualities and their ability to recruit and align with others. It requires a lot of confidence on the part of the leader. They must be able to state their vision clearly to their followers and convince them that it is the best path to follow.

One of the challenges with this form of leadership is that it lacks continuity. If a charismatic leader leaves the institution, incoming leadership may not have the ability to keep the team in line, and everything may fall apart.

Charismatic leadership is ideal within institutions where the main problem is a lack of leadership in the system. If a leader comes along who, through their confidence and ability to inspire, can get the team aligned to a single mission, they can bring about transformational change.

  • Rational-legal authority leadership

This is a leadership style that is all about legal legitimacy and bureaucracy. People need to do things a certain way because that’s what is written in the books. It doesn’t matter that the methods may be outdated or that they may not work for a given situation. The leader’s job is to make sure that team members stick to the rules. On their part, the team shouldn’t question or challenge the prescribed way of doing things.

  • Traditional authority

The leader in this type of leadership style is an enforcer. They are there to make sure that followers stick to the tried and tested traditional methods of doing things. It is a type of leadership style that is rooted in custom and belief.

Both team members and leaders do things a certain way because that is the way they have always been done. It doesn’t matter that there may be other more efficient or logical ways.

This is a problematic way to lead because it discourages ideas and innovation. Team members may have brilliant suggestions to improve the system, but they do not share them because they know that new ways of doing things are not welcome.

  • Transactional leadership

This is the opposite of transformational leadership. Instead of following the leader’s vision, there is an open exchange between a leader and their team. Ideas flow both ways, and the leader’s main job is to organize staff and schedules and make sure that operations move smoothly. They provide structure and direction and let their team work without much interference. The leader doesn’t insist on using outdated methods that may not work. Rather, they embrace an open-door policy so that the best ideas are the ones that are put into practice.

  • Servant leadership

This is a style of leadership that is about the leader serving their followers. They are committed to their team’s development and take an active role in helping them achieve their goals. This type of leadership is best for those who are born to serve. The leader wants to make sure that those they lead have everything needed to succeed.

Servant leadership is ideal for some scenarios. In a highly innovative environment, for example, a servant leader is ideal. They make sure that those around them have whatever they require to be exceptional innovators, and they are open to new ideas and suggestions.

Servant-led healthcare institutions tend to have happier employees and patient satisfaction is consistently high. A good example of this is the Cleveland Clinic, which is one of the highest-ranked healthcare institutions in America for patient excellence. It previously scored dismally but adopting a servant leadership style led to an immediate improvement in satisfaction not just for patients but for employees as well.

Unfortunately, not many leaders are familiar with this style, so it isn’t very often that you’ll come across it. The other problem with servant leadership is that it isn’t ideal in situations where decisions must be made quickly, which is often the case in hospitals and clinics.

  • Laissez-faire leadership

This is a type of leadership where team members are encouraged to be innovative and make decisions. The leader takes a hands-off approach and will not be involved in many of the day-to-day issues that are involved in running a healthcare institution.

This sort of leadership encourages personal growth as employees need to make decisions every day; they become quite adept at self-direction. It also encourages people to innovate, and they become great problem solvers.

However, there are some serious drawbacks to laissez-faire leadership within healthcare institutions. There is often a lack of clarity when it comes to roles, and some tasks may be overlooked while others are repeated.

The other problem with this kind of leadership is that the leader often seems withdrawn and detached from those they are supposed to be leading, and this can lead to problems, especially when they are required to step up. They may not be accountable because they have no idea what is happening within their hospital.

  • Democratic leadership

This style of leadership encourages employees to make decisions, communicate openly and have discussions about the best way to achieve their goals. The leader delegates tasks and lets their team use their training, experience and intelligence to accomplish goals. The team members can contribute their ideas and share their feedback, discussing with others how best they can improve the system.

This is a good leadership style because the leader isn’t detached. They are present and provide guidance, and team members can be innovative and solve problems on their own.

However, democratic leadership can be problematic when you have too many voices contributing to the discussion. It can lead to confusion. Democratic leadership can also be difficult to implement when there is a lack of alignment of goals and priorities.

  • Autocratic leadership

What the leader says must be done, and team members do not provide input or opinions. They wait for their leader to direct them, and they follow orders without asking questions.

This type of leadership isn’t ideal for healthcare institutions as they are complex and have many moving parts, and it would be presumptuous to assume that a leader knows how every department works.

Leaders need the input of employees in different departments to ensure that everything is working as it ought to.

That isn’t to say that autocratic leadership is always ineffective. There are cases where it can come in handy. When supervising inexperienced nurses, for example, they should do as they are told.

  • Innovative leadership

This is a style of leadership that is great for saving institutions that are in trouble. The leader’s job is to help their followers think differently, bring fresh ideas to the table and try out new styles to find out which one works best.

It is a great way to lead people who are tasked with solving problems. It also works well in institutions that are strapped for resources. Employees are encouraged to find new ways to treat patients with few resources.

How to employ different leadership styles in healthcare

To employ any of these styles, you must be a strategic thinker. You need to have a good understanding of the problems facing your institution and come up with different ideas to solve them. You must go beyond the management level and get a good understanding of what is happening in various departments.

Leadership courses are great for bolstering leadership skills. You learn about the different styles of management and where they are best applied.


With the right leadership, any healthcare institution has the potential to be exemplary. A good leader understands the problems that their institution and team are facing, and they also take the time to get to know their patients and the community around them. They can then choose the type of leadership style that is best suited to solve the issues, and they are willing to accept feedback and make changes along the way.