Between meaning and duty: leaders’ uses and misuses of ethical arguments in generating engagement

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To identify, record and determine from the perspective of an argumentation theory whether and how nurse leaders use or possibly misuse ethical arguments to motivate and engage their staff when daily practice is affected by reforms.

In some cases, health reforms based on New Public Management theories have met resistance, especially when perceived as contrary to nurses’ professional and personal ethical values, creating a motivational challenge for nurse leaders.

Qualitative thematic analysis and argumentation analysis based on personal interviews, focus group interviews and observations of nurse leaders and nurses in two different wards in a Danish hospital that has undergone structural and management reforms.

Nurse leaders use ethical arguments to engage their staff, either by trying to make the reforms ethically meaningful or by appealing to duty when no meaning can be found. Occasionally, these ethical arguments are fallacious and inconclusive from an argumentation theory perspective.
Implications for nursing management

Using ethical arguments can motivate and engage staff, but it may also escalate conflicts. Managers and leaders must be aware that, if the argument is flawed, appealing to higher ethical values is not always beneficial.
TidsskriftJournal of Nursing Management
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)129-138
Antal sider10
StatusUdgivet - mar. 2017


  • Ledelse, organisationsudvikling og innovation