Daniel Goleman’s article, Leadership That Gets Results, is one of the best articles from the Harvard Business Review archives. As the noted author of the book, Emotional Intelligence, Goleman combines his expertise in emotional intelligence with research on leadership styles done by the consulting firm, Hay/McBer. Their research uncovers six distinct leadership styles. Goleman concludes that there is no one best style, but the best leaders use their emotional intelligence to determine which style will best fits their specific situation. He describes each of the leadership styles, their advantages and disadvantages, and offers some brief examples of how a leader might apply the style. Every leader or aspiring leaders should understand each of these styles and how they can be used:
Coercive Style: This is a compliance focused style that is characterized by the phrase “Do what I tell you.” Although this style works well in extreme circumstances of a crisis or turnaround, in most cases it will have a negative impact on the overall organization once the crisis is past.
Authoritative Style: This style is used by leaders who have a clear vision for the organization and can rally people by saying, “Come with me.” It is a generally a positive style and works really well when an organization that has floundered in the past can be inspired to move in the direction of a new vision.
Affilitative Style: This is a style that is used by leaders to build harmony and teamwork within an organization. It is characterized by the phrase, “People come first.” Leaders will use this style to break down silos, to build relationships, and to get people to communicate and cooperate.
Democratic Style: As the name implies, this style is used to get people to buy-in and to build consensus. It is best described by the phrase “What do you think?” It works well in professional environments where subordinates have deep expertise and access to information so that they can collaborate to make informed, consensus driven decisions. However, the democratic style can also be frustrating because it will require many meetings and discussions to arrive at a consensus.
Pacesetting Style: This style is often used by leaders who have technical expertise and can lead by example. Hence the phrase, “Do as I do, now” best describes this style. Pacesetting can achieve quick results if the team has expertise and primarily needs to be motivated; however, this style can also be de-motivating since the focus is on the leader performance and high standards. It deprives some on the team from demonstrating their own leadership and expertise, or causes others to feel overwhelmed by the fast pace and demanding standards.
Coaching Style: This style is used by leaders to develop people through coaching. Those using the coaching style will suggest ideas to subordinates with the catch-phrase, “try this.” This style works well when people are receptive to coaching, but can also require patience and a willingness to accept failure by the leader/coach when subordinates are in a learning mode.
Goleman’s conclusion that there is no one best style is supported by additional research that correlates six factors of organization climate with each of the styles. The organizational factors include: flexibility, responsibility, standards, rewards, clarity, and commitment. The research shows that the coercive and pacesetting styles have a negative correlations on organizational climate while the other four styles have a positive impact. Thus, except for unusual circumstances where coercive and pacesetting styles might be appropriate, leaders should normally use a combination of the authoritative, affiliative, democratic and coaching styles to achieve success. The best leaders will sense from their emotional intelligence when to use each of these styles. If you are an aspiring leader or a leader who wants to get to the next level of leadership excellence, Goleman’s article is a great primer on how to effectively use different leadership styles.