emotional leadership styles

Six Emotional Leadership Styles

Leading a High Performing Team

Taking a team from average to high performing requires leadership effectiveness and using a blend of leadership styles in specific circumstance.  Misuse, overuse or underuse of a particular style can not only lead to ineffectiveness but can result in team failure.

As research for his book [i]‘Leadership That Gets Results’ Daniel Goldman and his team completed a three-year study with over 3,000 senior executives to uncover the specific leadership behaviours and styles they exhibited and also the effect each style had on the culture and bottom line performance of their organisations.

The research discovered that a leader’s style was responsible for 30% of the company’s bottom line performance!  Clearly, this is so much for any of us to ignore.  Imagine the impact your team could have on your results if they were led by an inspiring and adaptable leader.

The Six Emotional Leadership Styles

Daniel Goleman identified six different leadership styles. He describes how good leaders need to adopt one of these six styles to meet the needs of different situations.

Goleman stresses that good leaders should be emotionally intelligent or adequately sensitive and aware to know which style to adopt for different situations they are faced with.

The research identified four styles which encourage team harmony and inclusion (visionary, coaching, affiliative and democratic), and two other styles that are more directional but can potentially create disagreement and conflict (pace-setting and commanding).

Each style will have a different effect on people’s emotions, and each has strengths and weaknesses in different situations.  No single style should be used all of the time. Instead, the six styles should be used interchangeably, depending on the specific needs of the situation and the people you are dealing with.

Here is a summary of the Goleman six emotional leadership styles:

Leadership Style Description
Pacesetting Leadership Expects and models excellence, self-direction and performance.  A good phrase for this style would be “do as I do now.” The pacesetting style works best when the team is already motivated and skilled, and the leader needs quick results.  This style is effective when you require high-quality results, quickly. Used extensively, however, this style can exhaust, overwhelm the team members and possibly lead to high staff turnover.
Visionary Leadership Inspires the team towards a common vision and focuses on results and end goals, but leaves the detail of how to get there to each individual.  The phrase, “come with me” would work well for this style.   The authoritative style works best when a team needs new vision and direction.  Authoritative leaders inspire an innovative spirit and enthusiasm for results.  It is not best in an environment when working with a team of experts with more knowledge and experience than the leader.
Affiliative Leadership Works to create harmony and emotional bonds that bring a feeling of belonging to the team. A phrase that sums this style up well is “people come first.” The affiliative style works best in times of tension or conflict, when the team needs support, or when they need to rebuild trust. This style should not be used exclusively as it could encourage mediocre performance. A team with a sole reliance on praise and nurturing can become complacent and lack direction.
Coaching Leadership Develops people for the future. You may hear a coaching leader saying “try this” or “give it a go, you will be great”. Coaching leaders are empathic, encouraging and future focussed. The coaching style works best when the leader wants to help individuals build on their personal strengths and supports their future career. This style is motivating and establishes rapport and trust. It is least effective when teammates are defiant and unwilling to change or learn, or if the leader lacks proficiency.
Commanding Leadership An autocratic style that demands immediate compliance and tight control. If this style were summed up in one phrase, it would be “do what I tell you.” The commanding style is most effective in times of high-pressure situations, significant change or during an actual emergency. This style can also help when having to deal with a challenging individual who is not performing adequately.  However, it should be avoided wherever possible as it can have a profoundly negative effect on a team as it can alienate people, stifle flexibility and inventiveness.
Democratic Leadership Focuses on collaboration and builds teams and individual agreement through participation. The democratic style is most effective when the leader requires the team to be involved and take ownership of a decision, plan or goal, or when fresh ideas are needed. It works well with a knowledgeable and motivated team. It is not the best choice when you have an inexperienced team or in times of pressure.


[i] Daniel Goleman (2000) Leadership that Gets Results, Harvard Business Review 82-83

Daniel Goleman is Co-Director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organisations at Rutgers University, co-author of Primal Leadership: Leading with Emotional Intelligence, and author of The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights and Leadership: Selected Writings. His latest book is A Force For Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World.

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