‘Watching an artist at work’: aesthetic leadership in clinical nursing workplaces

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Aims and objectives.

To explore how clinical leaders enact aesthetic leadership in clinical nursing workplaces.


Clinical leadership is heralded as vital for safe and effective nursing. Different leadership styles have been applied to the clinical nursing workplace over recent years. Many of these styles lack an explicit moral dimension, instead focusing on leader qualities and developing leader competence around team building, quality and safety. Aesthetic leadership, with its explicit moral dimension, could enhance clinical leadership effectiveness and improve nursing workplaces. How aesthetic leadership is enacted in clinical nursing settings requires exploration.


A qualitative design, employing conversation-style interviews with experienced registered nurses and written responses gathered from an online descriptive survey.


Narrative data were gathered from interviews with 12 registered nurses and written accounts from 31 nurses who responded to an online survey. Together, transcribed interview data and the written accounts were subject to thematic analysis.


Three main themes emerged: Leading by example: ‘be seen in the clinical area’; Leading with composure: ‘a sense of calm in a hideous shift’; and Leading through nursing values: ‘create an environment just by your being’.


Aesthetic leadership was shown to enhance clinical leadership activities in the nursing workplace. The capacity for clinical leaders to be self-reflective can positively influence the nursing workplace. It was apparent that clinical leader effectiveness can be enhanced with nursing values underpinning leadership activities and by being a visible, composed role model in the clinical workplace.

Relevance to clinical practice.

Aesthetic leadership can enhance clinical nursing workplaces with its explicit moral purpose and strong link to nursing values. Clinical leaders who incorporate these attributes with being a visible, composed role model have the capacity to improve the working lives of nurses across a range of clinical settings.

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