Transformational Leadership : JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration

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Departments: Magnet® Perspectives

Transformational Leadership

Luzinski, Craig MSN, RN, NEA-BC, FACHE

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JONA: The Journal of Nursing Administration: December 2011 - Volume 41 - Issue 12 - p 501-502
doi: 10.1097/NNA.0b013e3182378a71
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As our nation experiences the broadest healthcare overhaul since the inception of Medicare and Medicaid, organizations must be prepared to respond nimbly and effectively to intense, unprecedented change. Organizations with dynamic, transformational nurse leaders are well-positioned to meet this challenge.

Transformational leadership is a key characteristic of Magnet® organizations and 1 of the 5 components of the new Magnet model from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. But what, exactly, makes a leader transformational? This month, we take a closer look at the qualities and approaches involved, as well as the expectations for Magnet organizations around this component.

Leadership literature and research have migrated from an emphasis on the competence of leaders to “manage change” to the ability to “transform” organizations. There is a difference. The ability to successfully transform an organization requires a different set of skills and attitudes. Transformational leadership is formally defined as “a leadership process that is systematic, consisting of purposeful and organized search for changes, systematic analysis, and the capacity to move resources from areas of lesser to greater productivity to bring about a strategic transformation.”1(p34) In today’s volatile healthcare environment, successful leaders must find innovative ways to transform their organization’s values, beliefs, and behaviors to meet the demands of the future. It is relatively easy to lead people where they want to go; the transformational leader must direct people to where they need to be to achieve the vision.

The chief nursing officer (CNO) in a Magnet organization must be a knowledgeable, transformational leader who develops a strong vision and well-articulated philosophy, professional practice model, and strategic and quality plans in leading nursing services. The transformational CNO communicates expectations, develops leaders, and evolves the organization to meet current and anticipated needs and strategic priorities.2 There is a willingness to take risks and acknowledge that change may create turbulence and involve atypical approaches to solutions.

Transformational leaders in Magnet organizations enlighten the organization as to why change is necessary and communicate each department’s part in achieving that change. They must listen, challenge, influence, and affirm as the organization makes its way forward. Burns3(p20) describes transformational leadership as “transcending leadership that is dynamic leadership in the sense that leaders throw themselves into a relationship with followers who feel elevated by it and become more active themselves.” Success happens not because followers dutifully agree to go along but because leaders and followers learn from each other, come to a common understanding, and establish shared values. In a truly transformed organization, these values and beliefs live in the genetic makeup of staff and drive behavior.4 As a result, nurses throughout the organization perceive that their voices are heard, their input is valued, and their practice is supported.

The forces of Magnetism at the heart of transformational leadership are as follows:

  • Quality of nursing leadership

Knowledgeable, strong, risk-taking nurse leaders follow a well-articulated, strategic, and visionary philosophy in the day-to-day operations of nursing services. Nursing leaders, at all levels of the organization, convey a strong sense of advocacy and support for the staff and for the patient. The results of quality leadership are evident in nursing practice at the patient’s side.

  • Management style

Healthcare organization and nursing leaders create an environment supporting participation. Feedback is encouraged, valued, and incorporated from the staff at all levels of the organization. Nurses serving in leadership positions are visible, accessible, and committed to communicating effectively with staff.

The intent of this component of the Magnet model, is no longer just to solve problems, fix broken systems, and empower staff but also to summon the will and imagination to fundamentally transform the organization for the future. Rather than strive for stabilization, transformational leaders embrace a level of “controlled destabilization” that produces new ideas and innovation. Such an approach is crucial for growth and success amid rapidly changing healthcare settings and an evolving national healthcare system.

Every day, in hospitals across the country and around the world, Magnet CNOs demonstrate transformational leadership that articulates the vision, inspires change, and directs the way to meaningful improvements in the nursing practice environment and patient care quality, safety, and outcomes.

Next time: An in-depth look at the Magnet model component structural empowerment, with exemplars.


1. Bass BM. Bass and Stoggle Handbook on Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications: Third Edition. New York, NY: The Free Press; 1990.
2. American Nurses Credentialing Center. Magnet Recognition Program Application Manual. Silver Spring, MD: Author; 2008.
3. Burns JM. Leadership. New York, NY: Harper & Row Publishers; 1978.
4. Wolf G, Zimmerman D, Drenkard K. Transformational leadership. In: Magnet: The Next Generation—Nurses Making the Difference. Silver Spring, MD: American Nurses Credentialing Center; 2011.
© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.