A comparative study of transformational leadership in nursing development units and conventional clinical settings

J Nurs Manag. 2000 Mar;8(2):69-76. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2834.2000.00151.x.


Aims: This is a comparative study of the leadership provided by nurse managers and leaders in Nursing Development Units and conventional clinical settings in England.

Background: Nursing development units (NDUs) were originally conceived as centres of nursing excellence, innovation and leadership development. This article describes the first published use of a leadership practices inventory (LPI) explicitly based upon a model of transformational leadership. This style of leadership has been commended as highly effective and suitable for nursing.

Methods: The use of the LPI was piloted as a postal questionnaire and as a schedule for telephone interviewing, these pilots supported the use of telephone interviewing in the main study. Two matched samples of 70 nurses in total were recruited from across England, comprising 14 nurse leaders and 56 of their day to day colleagues. Data was collected by telephone interviewing over a 6-week period between February and April 1998. Six null hypotheses were developed to identify significant inter-group differences in leadership behaviour. Descriptive and inferential data analysis techniques were employed using SPSS for Windows.

Findings: The leadership provided by NDU leaders was evaluated more highly than non-NDU leaders. A higher level of congruence between self and observer evaluations was shown by NDU leaders. Statistically significant inter-group differences were apparent in three of the five practices of exemplary leadership and in the overall leadership behaviour. NDU leaders show greater self awareness and are more transformational than their non-NDU counterparts. The limitations of the study design are discussed.

Conclusions: NDU leaders provide leadership of a more transformational nature than their counterparts working in conventional settings. This finding suggests that NDU leaders have enhanced leadership potential and that formalizing nursing development within NDUs may promote the emergence of transformational leadership and provide a microculture in which it might flourish. The LPI is regarded as a useful, adaptable tool suitable for use in UK nursing applications including research, leadership development and education.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • England
  • Hospital Units / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Inservice Training
  • Leadership*
  • Nurse Administrators / standards*
  • Nursing Research / organization & administration*
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Nursing, Supervisory / standards*
  • Pilot Projects