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Autocratic Leadership and Job Satisfaction in Nurses


Leadership refers to the use of power and influence to direct the activities of followers toward the goal achievement. Leaders can use a number of styles in order to make decisions (Colquitt, 2013). Leadership style is the way in which a leader promotes particular leadership behavior (Kisner, 2013). An autocratic leadership, also known as authoritarian, is a type of leadership style in which the leader makes the decisions alone without asking for suggestions or opinions from other individuals within the unit (Colquitt, Lepine, & Wesson, 2013). The inputs from other members in the team or unit are generally not accepted despite the potential benefits to the organization. The use of this style of leadership has been associated with a great deal of impediment in the work place (Romey, 2002). 

When an autocratic leadership style is utilized in a hospital setting, a majority of nurses are not satisfied because of the many problems it exhibits (Hayes et al., 2005). The purpose of this work is to examine whether an autocratic leadership style decreases job satisfaction in nurses. This study will explore various issues associated with an autocratic leadership style and consider whether this particular style of leadership leads to low job satisfaction among nurses.

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Due to the fact that an autocratic leadership style, also known as an authoritarian leadership, is characterized by the individual control over all the decisions, commands which do not seek other suggestions, and rather little input from group members, it leads to the discouragement of nurses from validity questioning of given directions and decreases job satisfaction.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework integrated in this analysis is derived from two theories: the Contingency Leadership Theory and the Transformational Leadership theory. Contingency Theory of Leadership proposes that the effectiveness of a leader is dependent upon his or her leadership style and to some extent how well he or she can control and influence organizational outcomes (McCutcheon, 2009). Transformational Leadership Theory focuses on the significance of the relationship between leaders and followers (McCutcheon, 2009). Transformational leaders are inspiring and help members reach their maximal potential (Colquitt, 2013).

Literature Review

The leadership style and its influence on job satisfaction in nursing has been widely researched (Doran, 2004). Studies have revealed a relationship between job satisfaction and leadership style that accounts for 29% of worker satisfaction (Romey, 2002). It has been shown that the style of leadership in a hospital setting plays a significant role in ensuring job satisfaction. It has been found that leadership behavior plays an important role not only in job satisfaction, but also accounts for organizational culture, quality of care, types of patients, organizational use of power, medical equipment and communication between management (McNeese- Smith, 1996). It has been considered that each individual has own patterns of behavior and features of leadership in spite of the fact that they are not natural leaders (Bass, 1995). Nusring is the type of work of a high social status where leadership takes place among the middle class of the staff (Kenmore, 2008). Therefore, leaders in hospital settings should ensure that they are using a style of leadership that will prevent nurses from leaving their jobs (Kisner, 2013). Recent studies have shown that the quality of supervisor relations and behavior makes an impact on job satisfaction among nurses (Hayes, 2005). Thus, it is essential for hospitals to pay close attention to the factors that could increase nurses retention. 

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An autocratic leadership style is associated with the increased stress, strain, low group cohesion, and leads to dissatisfaction (Doran, 2004). According to Buisman (2009), an autocratic leadership style is full of bureaucracy and prevents autonomy. When a job provides high levels of autonomy, the outcomes are viewed as a product of efforts rather than a result of careful instruction from leaders. High levels of autonomy can mean the differences between having a “long leash” and being micro managed (Colquitt, 2013). 

An autocratic leadership style also leads to turnover.  Nurses tend to leave their jobs secondary to their dissatisfaction.  An autocratic leadership style does not allow nurses to participate in the organization commitment to success, which can lead to an ideal working environment. (Hayes et al., 2005).  The long-term effect of this type of leadership style is the decreased motivation of the staff (Busiman, 2009). Employees who are satisfied with their jobs are more likely to work productively and remain with the organization (Doran, 2004). There is a higher level of motivation among satisfied employees and those who are not. A job satisfaction in nursing is related to satisfaction of the individuals he or she cares for (Doran, 2004).  If managers utilize an appropriate and effective leadership style, it can lead to job satisfaction among nurses.  Leadership style is significant in promoting empowerment in the work place, organizational commitment, and job satisfaction (Doran, 2004).  According to the research, the transformational leadership style helps increase work place satisfaction among nurses (Hayes et al., 2005).

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Transformational leadership has a greater capacity to instill commitment, increases morale, and decreases employee stress. 


Nurses impact the lives of the patients they come in contact with every day.  Hospital leaders should be especially concerned with the job satisfaction of their nurses.  If nurses are satisfied they will stay committed to their work and have a high level of morale (Romney, 2002). The choice of leadership style can help determine job satisfaction in nurses. For this study, the autocratic leadership style is examined. The characteristics of this leadership style include little input from group members in the decision making process, dictation from group leaders on how work should be carried out, and no trust of group leaders in regards to making important decisions on the part of employees (Kisner, 2013). The performance of the group can decrease, as well as creativity to solve problems is not available. Dissatisfaction predates a nurse’s intentions to leave an organization (Doran, 2004).  Retention and turnover are critical issues for nursing managers. There exist the following ways in which nursing leaders can retain staff:

a)    Participation in decision making.

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One of the leading causes of decreased job satisfaction in the nursing population is failure of leaders to allow their stuff to participate in decision making process (Kisner, 2013).  Leaders have the ability to cultivate an environment that encourages and permits participation in decision making among nurses. A leadership style that enables participation in decision-making will enhance job satisfaction unlike that of an autocratic leadership style (Doran, 2004). Nurses are the largest working population of the hospital staff and should be included in the governance of the organization. A transformational leadership style is the best type of leadership for a hospital setting and includes inspiring followers in order to become committed to a vision that adds meaning to their work. It also serves as a role model that is used to help the followers develop their own potential and view problems from new point of view and perspective. This type of leadership is often viewed as a more motivational leadership approach (Colquitt, 2013). 

b)   Respect and satisfaction.

Perception of respect also increases job satisfaction in nurses.  Respect is often felt when individuals feel that their worth and dignity is valued (Buisman, 2009). On the other hand, interpersonal injustice can occur when authorities are rude or disrespectful to employees (Colquitt, 2013). Rewarding and recognizing nurses for a well done job adds value to how they perceive their role within the organization.  This can also be a source of motivation for the nurses and enhance job retention. Leaders should always be at the forefront of organizations, helping nurses perform their jobs in ways such as training, and coaching. This can also foster respect and job satisfaction (Hayes et al., 2005).

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c)    Improved access to communication.

Job satisfaction can be stimulated if nurses feel that they can communicate with hospital administration within the organization (Doran, 2004).  When the work is complex, teams can benefit from having the ability to communicate with everyone in the team to assist or solve problems.  Employees are more satisfied when they are kept “in the loop,” (Colquitt, 2013).  Channels of communication with administration can include training courses, rounding, departmental meetings, and meetings between nurses and their supervisors or leaders.

d)   Autocracy and dictation.

Autocratic leaders dictate what is needed  to be done which can be very frustrating, thus generating an environment of fear and resentment (Doran, 2004). This type of environment can create a great deal of absenteeism in the work place, and lead to a hostile working environment between leaders and staff.  The overall progress of an organization towards its goals can be compromised (Kisner, 2013). Job satisfaction is decreased with using and autocratic leadership style.  Due to those factors nurses are likely to perform poorly in hospital settings, which can lead to poor patient satisfaction.  Teamwork and interaction among co-coworkers can also be negatively impacted when dictation is used (Romney, 2002). 

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e)    Autocracy and working environment.

Leadership style influences the cohesion of groups. Cohesion refers to strong emotional bonds to other members of the team as well as the team itself (Colquitt, 2013).  An autocratic leadership style does not provide a good working environment that empowers nurses (Doran, 2004). Their work is controlled by their leaders and they have no part in the decision making process. They lack self-determination or the ability to chose and initiate performance of work tasks. Leaders are interested in results from nursing staff and provide no intellectual stimulation, but only dictation (Kisner, 2013). 

Facilitation of patient care is hindered under autocratic leadership. This is due to the non-consideration of the working environment by leaders. Leaders fail to clarify tasks, expectations, and procedures (Hayes et al., 2005). Nurses fail to receive guidance from autocratic leaders, which can translate into increased anxiety and emotional exhaustion.  This leadership style produces a negative working environment for nurses in the hospital setting. 

An environment of empowerment can increase nurses’ satisfaction.  Nurses who are empowered have the tendency to have a better relationship with leaders (Buisman, 2009). It is beneficial to hospital leaders to engage in leadership styles that develop a strong working relationship with nurses to foster high performance. Thus, a transformational leadership style may be necessary, as it has been noted on many accounts to bring about job satisfaction and organizational commitment (Hayes et al., 2005).  In addition, a transformational leadership style can create good working relationships between nurses and hospital leaders. 

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Empowerment of nurses also promotes autonomy (Doran, 2004).  Transformational leaders believe that organizational goals are attained by inclusion of all staff members.  Managers are further empowered by empowering their staff. By including staff in management via various channels leaders can help build self-esteem, create autonomy, and improve job satisfaction.

The use of an autocratic leadership style can result in a stressful working environment.  There is a saying that employees do not leave their jobs, they leave their bosses.  It is difficult to provide high quality, effective healthcare in a stressful environment (Buisman, 2009).  Studies have shown that when employees feel they have no support from their leaders, they become dissatisfied (Kisner, 2013). Autocratic leadership style can result in a loss of efficiency in nurses. These types of leaders may not trust their staff members, which leads to their lack of openness to other opinions and suggestions from the staff to improve the organization (Kisner, 2013). 

Alternatives to Autocratic Leadership Style

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership involves inspiring others to commit to a shared vision that provides meaning to their work while also serving as a role model who helps followers develop their own potential and view problems from a new perspective (Colquitt, 2013). This type of leadership style or behavior is the most favorable among nurses, and is associated with decreased turnover. Decreased turnover proves to be profitable for hospital organizations in that less revenue will be spent on hiring and orienting new staff members. Quality of care can also increase as nurses are satisfied with their jobs (Busiman, 2009).

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Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership occurs when leaders reward or discipline the followers depending on the adequacy of the follower’s performance (Colquitt, 2013).  Research suggests that this type of leadership behavior is the best at motivating employees in organizations. Transactional leaders assign tasks, specify procedures and clarify expectations, which can decrease burnout and role ambiguity.  This type of leadership is a predictor of patient satisfaction, which in turn is related to job satisfaction in nurses (McCutcheon, 2009). 


The results of several studies have shown that leadership styles effect job satisfaction in nurses. Those effects can be either productive and positive or unproductive and negative in nature. Organizations should focus on the leadership style of its managers in an effort to decrease nurses turnover and increase retention.  Organizations can implement leadership-training programs to facilitate effective leadership styles. Nurses should be valued and empowered, and organizations should foster their ideas to increase nurses’ input within the system. It has become evident that leadership may occur in nursing in dirrefent ways. Sometimes the nurses’ employer is also treated as a leader. Leadership effects may have a poor or string motivation in productivity and job satisfaction of nurses. Working in a group with a leader is considered to be one of the key factors that are used to measure job satisfaction levels.











Managerial Implications

Organizations should train managers to be effective leaders. Training should be geared towards increasing transformational leadership behaviors (Colquitt, 2013).  Managers can schedule monthly rounding with each member of the staff to discuss what hospital systems are working or not working, or what equipment or tools do they need to do their job more efficiently, and if there are others within the organization that they would like to recognize for doing a good job.  Managers can also hold a monthly departmental meeting with the staff to discuss what is going on within the hospital system and structures, what are the changes etc., which may impact the team.  Managers can use a reward system to present an “Above and Beyond” award monthly with incentives such as an extra hour at lunch in addition to a free lunch.

Teamwork is often considered to be an essential part of effective leadership presupposing the fact that everyone has to learn to work with each other and to make sure that the goals are achieved. It includes delegating authority, developing people, enabling others through encouraging them, listening to their ideas, providing tools to do the job, supporting creativity, removing obstacles that hinder or interfere team performance, etc. (Shaw, 2007, p. 48). Development of leadership skills may be successfully done with the help of continuos learning which may also encourage the staff to follow similar development programmes and training. However, a good and trained leader can manage all situations and encourage the staff, as well as play a vital role in the job satisfaction.

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