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The aim was to explore why nurses enter nursing leadership and apply for a management position in health care. The study is part of a research programme in nursing leadership and evidence-based care.Nursing has not invested enough in the development of nursing leadership for the development of patient care. There is scarce research on nurses' motives and reasons for committing themselves to a career in nursing leadership.A strategic sample of 68 Finnish nurse leaders completed a semistructured questionnaire. Analytic induction was applied in an attempt to generate a theory.A theory, Paths to Nursing Leadership, is proposed for further research. Four different paths were found according to variations between the nurse leaders' education, primary commitment and situational factors. They are called the Path of Ideals, the Path of Chance, the Career Path and the Temporary Path.Situational factors and role models of good but also bad nursing leadership besides motivational and educational factors have played a significant role when Finnish nurses have entered nursing leadership. The educational requirements for nurse leaders and recruitment to nursing management positions need serious attention in order to develop a competent nursing leadership.