Millennial Nurses Need Leadership That’s a Break From the Past

Leadership styles that worked for Baby Boomers may not work for Millennials, and that includes on the nursing unit. A servant-leader model is much better suited to Millennial workers than authoritarian leadership models of the past.

Now constituting 35% of U.S. workers, Millennials represent the largest generational segment in the American labor force, and their percentage is expected to grow over the next decade.


M Faller, J Gogek. Break From the Past: Survey Suggests Modern Leadership Styles Needed for Millennial Nurses. Nurse Leader, Volume 17, April 2019, Pages 135-140.

In addition to their sheer numbers, Millennials bring their own unique attitudes on such factors as leadership, work environment, and organizational culture. Because the growth of Millennial nurses coincides with unprecedented demand for and shortages of nurses, workplace leadership preferences and effective management of Millennials take on a magnified importance.


Survey of Millennial Nurses

A report from AMN Healthcare, Survey of Millennial Nurses: A Dynamic Influence on the Profession, showed that Millennial nurses display greater interest in and expectations of clinical leadership compared with their generational peers. They also showed greater confidence in their leaders and in their leaders support for them.

The data strongly support what human resources experts have expressed concerning Millennial workers as a whole: traditional models of leadership might not be effective for them.

An article based on that survey, “Break From the Past: Survey Suggests Modern Leadership Styles Needed for Millennial Nurses,” published in the April 2019 edition of Nurse Leader journal, suggests that servant–leader model of leadership may be more suited to clinical management of Millennial nurses.

Generational Change in Leadership Models

The Millennial generation of nurses wants to be inspired and to have meaningful input into decision-making on organizational management and patient care. They want more collaboration, a values-based culture, greater autonomy, and even more authority. They want leaders who care about them and their careers, leaders who they can trust and who are very effective in their leadership.

The command-and-control model of leadership, which was prevalent during most of the careers of Baby Boomers and even Gen Xers, may be inappropriate for managing Millennials. Stereotypes about Millennial workers, such as that they are too demanding and prone to disloyalty, may arise from attitudes engendered by command-and-control leadership models, where respect is required rather than engaged. Negative perceptions about Millennial work habits may simply be the view from those accustomed to authoritarian leadership models.

The servant–leader model is focused on putting employees first, empowering them, helping them grow and succeed, behaving ethically, and thereby creating value for the organization. Unlike authoritative leadership styles, the servant–leader does not dictate terms but rather demonstrates behavior and promotes learning from a person’s own experience.