PURPOSE The purpose of this study was to understand and describe the leadership experience of clinical nurses. METHODS During 2014, data were collected using focus group interviews. Three focus group interviews were held with a total of 20 clinical nurses participating. All interviews were recorded as they were spoken and transcribed and data were analyzed using qualitative content analysis. RESULTS Fifteen categories emerged from the five main themes. 1) Thoughts on the leadership category: to lead others, to cope with problem situations adequately and to serve as a shield against difficulties. 2) Situations requiring leadership: situation that requires correct judgement, coping and situations that need coordination and cooperation. 3-1) Leadership behaviors: other-oriented approach and self-oriented approach. 3-2) Leadership behavior consequences: relevant compensation and unfair termination. 4-1) Facilitators of leadership: confidence and passion for nursing and external support and resources. 4-2) Barriers to leadership: non-supportive organization culture and deficiency in own leadership competencies. 5) Strategies of leadership development: strengthen leadership through self-development and organizational leadership development. CONCLUSION In conclusion, the results indicate that it is necessary to enhance clinical nurses' leadership role in healthcare. Enhancement can be achieved through leadership programs focused on enlarging leadership experience, constant self-development, leadership training, and development of leadership competencies suited to the nursing environment.