6 Leadership Styles from Daniel Goleman, the Author of the “Leadership That Gets Results”

As a leader, your primal goal is to get results, but have you ever wondered what leadership style you have? A lot of leaders never ask this question because they find it needless. They lead purely from the gut feeling. Their leadership style is based on their instinct. However, some degree of self-awareness can be helpful and make you even more effective. So let’s take a closer look at the six leadership styles described by Daniel Goleman, the author of "Emotional Intelligence", in his Harvard Business Review article “Leadership That Gets Results”, and two books: "Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman and "Primal Leadership" by Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee.

leadership styles from daniel goleman
Image by Joseph Mucira from Pixabay

To help you figure out which leadership style you relate to, we will cover the six leadership styles and provide common characteristics of each. However, according to the research mentioned in Daniel Goleman’s article “Leadership that Gets Results”:

“leaders with the best results do not rely on only one leadership style; they use many or most of them in a given week - seamlessly and in different measures - depending on the business situation.”

Familiarizing yourself with different leadership styles can help you identify areas to improve upon and eventually, expand your leadership style. Daniel Goleman compares leadership styles to the array of golf clubs in the golf player’s bag. Just like the golf pro picks and chooses clubs based on the demands of the shot, the high-profile leader should pick and choose leadership styles based on the demands of the business situation. 

Foundations of Daniel Goleman’s leadership styles

Who has the biggest impact on the working environment? Who makes rules and creates the whole atmosphere of the company? It is a leader. If a leader is easy-going, he or she creates a more relaxed work setting.

Leadership styles are based on factors influencing a company’s working environment: 

  • flexibility, 
  • responsibility, 
  • standards, 
  • performance, 
  • rewards,
  • clarity, 
  • commitment.  

Particular leadership styles reflect the degree of how much flexibility and freedom leaders are willing to give to their employees, how responsible they feel for the company or how important standards are. Moreover, different leaders expect different levels of performance, mission awareness, or commitment.

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1. The Authoritative Leadership Style [Visionary]

“Visionary leaders articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there.”

“Primal Leadership” Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee

Authoritative leaders are visionaries who set goals and know where the company is going, but they enable people to experiment, innovate and take calculated risks. By putting trust in employees and giving them a free hand, authoritative leaders get extraordinary results never possible to get from people who always act as instructed. Setting clear expectations combined with a hands-off approach results in higher overall employees’ effectiveness. 

By creating a clear vision, showing the big picture, and providing “why”, they inspire employees and make them understand the end goal and why their work matters. Consequently, it leads to increased employees’ motivation and eventually higher employee retention.

Leaders who follow the authoritative leadership style know that employees should know their work goes well with the company’s vision and they actively contribute to the success of the company because then their commitment is much higher. Subordinates of authoritative leaders are not only well-informed about company standards and rewards but also realize why their work is important and how it aligns with the bigger picture.

As people don’t like uncertainty, leaders who follow the authoritative leadership style are very effective. By having a clear-cut vision of the future, authoritative leaders show employees where the company is heading. They don’t just command and give orders but explain their standpoint and why some decisions have been made. As a result, people start to understand the background and become more engaged.

Most importantly, even though authoritative leaders are recognized as an authority, they let people figure out how to achieve common goals. What’s interesting, employees are allowed to take calculated risks, as well as innovate and experiment.

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How to be an authoritative leader:

  • Create a clear vision;
  • Give people a dream they want to reach for;
  • Set a common goal;
  • Let people experiment;
  • Let people take calculated risks;
  • Let people speak their mind;
  • Create a transparent organization;
  • Set clear performance standards;
  • Create a clear reward and recognition system;
  • Review all practices, rules and procedures;
  • Make all practices, rules and procedures be in sync with the vision; 
  • Share knowledge openly;
  • Constantly remind people of the big purpose of their work
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2. The Coaching Leadership Style

“Coaching focuses on personal development rather than on accomplishing tasks.”

“Primal Leadership” Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee

Leaders tend to use the coaching leadership approach least often justifying it with tight deadlines and lack of time. However, this leadership style, used in the right way, has the potential to improve results. Through deep personal conversations focused on employees’ development and their career goals, coaching leaders build rapport and trust with their direct reports, which eventually leads to better company results.  

Leaders, following the coaching leadership style not because they are told to do it, but they really believe it works, have better results. By expressing genuine interest in employees’ life, career and goals, coaching leaders gain their loyalty and engagement. When employees feel that their leader shows true care and attention about their professional development and doesn’t treat them like tools just to get things done, they become more open to performance feedback and more willing to make improvements to their work system. 

Generally, leaders tend to forget that they work with humans who have feelings, not with emotionless robots. In fact, some business situations truly need the coaching leadership style. If more leaders realized the importance of coaching in the workplace, employees would feel appreciated, respected, and happier which in the end would result in lower employee turnover. 

Most of all coaching leaders help employees pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses in order to set the right long-term development goals. When employees realize what their strong and weak points are, they, together with their leaders, can conceptualize a suitable career path and make a plan on how to achieve professional objectives. By interconnecting everyday tasks with professional aspirations, coaching leaders increase their employees’ motivation and effectiveness. However, it is only possible when a leader is able to establish deep emotional contact with people. 

Leaders using the coaching leadership style tend to make their employees leave their comfort zone by assigning them more challenging tasks. By stretching people’s skills and abilities, leaders enable them to develop even if they make mistakes on the way. 

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How to be a coaching leader:

  • Make deep emotional contact with employees;
  • Ask questions;
  • Be genuinely interested;
  • Set up frequent meetings;
  • Have personal conversations with employees;
  • Listen to employees;
  • Set aside time for conversations;
  • Help employees find their strong and weak points;
  • Help employees set up career goals;
  • Link long-term aspirations with daily tasks;
  • Delegate challenging tasks;
  • Make people stretch and their comfort zone;
  • Tolerate short-term failures;
  • Believe in people’s potential.
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3. The Affiliative Leadership Style

“Affiliative leaders are masters at building a sense of belonging.”

“Leadership - The Power of Emotional Intelligence”, Daniel Goleman

The hallmark of the affiliative leadership style is focusing more on employees’ emotional needs and less on achieving objectives. By building harmony in the workplace and supporting employees during hard times, affiliative leaders are able to establish remarkable loyalty, liaison, and community among people.

By building strong relationships, affiliative leaders always strive to recognize employees as people and make them feel important to create trust and improve communication. It creates a positive team atmosphere that eventually influences company performance. 

The affiliative leadership style is a perfect tool for building team resonance, but leaders usually resolve to apply it when a company needs to deal with trust issues, poor communication, or low morale. Much as less effective as a performance driver, the affiliative style can be a useful tool for resolving people’s issues as it exerts a very beneficial influence on a team’s climate.

Surprisingly, affiliative leaders value downtime as they perceive it as a chance to build more emotional capital which could be used in times of pressure. By focusing on the needs and feelings of others, leaders that exemplify the affiliative leadership style strive to make people feel valued and respected. Their enormous empathy is underlying competence that always puts people first.

Leaders who are being affiliative tend to foster risk-taking and innovation as they avoid imposing unnecessary limitations and restrictions. By letting employees decide how to get work done, they support people’s inventiveness and self-belief.

However, the affiliative leadership style shouldn’t be used exclusively. Just praising employees without giving constructive feedback may result in poor results and mediocrity. That is why this leadership style is the most effective when it is combined with the authoritative leadership style. 

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How to be an affiliative leader:

  • Create strong personal bonds;
  • See people in employees;
  • Pay attention to people’s needs and feelings;
  • Set aside time for deep conversations;
  • Praise your employees;
  • Support risk-taking;
  • Create resonance and harmony;
  • Don’t worry when downtime happens;
  • Don’t impose strict rules;
  • Give people the freedom;
  • Give generous positive feedback;
  • Build a sense of belonging;
  • Don’t take credit for employees’ work.
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4. The Democratic Leadership Style

“A democratic approach works best when the leader is uncertain about what direction to take and needs ideas from able employees.”

“Primal Leadership” Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee

Leaders exemplifying the democratic style tend to be great communicators and listeners who truly want to get to know their employees’ standpoint. Even if what they hear is tough, they don’t punish their employees. It creates a safe environment and open communication which leads to honest two-way feedback and better solutions.

The democratic leadership style makes sense when the leader either doesn’t have a vision and needs support and ideas from competent employees or has a vision, but understands that without the employees’ acceptance and their heartfelt support, the vision can’t be accomplished.

A democratic style works great to build commitment and resonance as democratic leaders tend to work as team members, not top-down leaders. They are truly interested and ready to listen to employees’ issues and opinions which makes feedback sessions very effective.

The democratic approach is especially useful in very diverse groups whose members have opposing views, but a leader needs to find a common ground. In such complicated situations, a leader's ability to attune to people’s needs and make everybody collaborate plays a big role.

By listening to people and getting the idea of their needs and concerns, democratic leaders make people involved in the decision-making process. When employees are active participants in making decisions, not just passive recipients of commands, they are more flexible and more realistic about what is and isn’t possible. What’s more, they also feel more accountable for the outcome of their work when they have a say in setting objectives.

The democratic leadership style works well when employees are competent, skilled, and willing to collaborate and participate actively in the whole decision-making process. However, in the case of reluctant, inept, and incompetent people, this leadership style doesn’t make sense because of a lack of teamwork.

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How to be a democratic leader:

  • Listen to people’s opinions, thoughts and concerns;
  • Don’t criticize employees’ ideas;
  • Don’t punish for telling the truth;
  • Take time to understand different points of view;
  • Make people involved in the process;
  • Let people set their goals;
  • Build commitment, trust, and respect;
  • Keep morale high;
  • Learn how to manage conflict;
  • Be a team member;
  • Use this style to gain the approval of unpopular decisions.
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5. The Pacesetting Leadership Style

“The pacesetting leader holds and exemplifies high standards for performance.”

“Primal Leadership” Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee

The unique feature of the pacesetting leadership style is a constant drive for excellence. Pacesetting leaders are obsessed with perfection. By continually setting higher and higher standards for themselves and others, they strive to do everything more and more effectively, and eventually, boost performance results.

Poor performers who don’t rise to the occasion and stand on the way to greatness are identified and replaced with those who perform better. As pacesetting leaders are always trying to be the best, they can’t tolerate anybody who is lagging and doesn’t meet their standards.

As expected, persistent pressure on results influences the climate in pacesetter’s teams. Employees who are constantly hard-pushed by excessive expectations and demands can feel burnout. Particularly, in teams that need more direction, support, and encouragement, a lack of clear guidelines and positive feedback can lead to rising anxiety and plunging morale which ultimately leads to poor performance.

A key prerequisite for making this style work is a team made of highly skilled professionals who are not only competent but motivated and need little or no direction. In these specific circumstances, leaders who follow the pacesetting approach may achieve extraordinary results and get the job done way ahead of the deadline.

The pacesetting leadership style works best in the first stage of the company’s life cycle, in particular in technical fields. In this stage called also entrepreneurial, the leader who is the main engine of driving growth up needs to wear many different hats and be not only a leader but also an expert. Used sparingly and combined with the visionary and affiliative style, the pacesetting leadership style can be an extremely powerful tool for achieving remarkable net results.

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How to be a pacesetting leader:

  • Always strive for excellence;
  • Be solely focused on your goals;
  • Be an expert who always knows everything;
  • Set very high standards;
  • Exemplify your standards;
  • Don’t communicate openly;
  • Don’t collaborate;
  • Demand perfection from employees;
  • Quickly identify and fire poor performers;
  • Expect people to know what to do without clear guidelines;
  • Don’t let employees take initiative;
  • Give no feedback;
  • Never praise employees;
  • Put constant pressure on people;
  • Be oblivious to your weaknesses;
  • Don’t delegate work;
  • Focus on numbers.
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6. The Commanding Leadership Style

“With a motto of “Do it because I say so,” such leaders demand immediate compliance with orders, but don’t bother explaining the reasons behind them.”

“Primal Leadership” Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee

The essence of the commanding leadership style is absolute compliance with the leader’s commands. The coercive leaders tend to issue orders without explaining any reasons which are lying behind them. They don’t tolerate any questioning of their decisions and demand from their employees to totally come into line with them.

The commanding leaders tend to exert full control over everything. When their employees don’t submit to their commands fully, they fall back on threats, anger, or even bullying. They demand from their subordinates full obedience and can’t stand when anybody challenges their orders and authority as they think they are always right.

Given employees’ satisfaction, by constant criticism, leaders exemplifying the commanding style undermine their subordinates’ self-confidence and influence their mood negatively. Coldness, bitterness, and strictness lead to dissonance and kill motivation. Continuously criticized employees who have no idea why their work is important and how it fits into the company’s vision become less committed and are less and less effective.

Despite its all drawbacks, the coercive approach has its advocates. If used reasonably, this style works very well in specific situations such as a business crisis, or a genuine emergency. In case of a hostile takeover, fire, or hurricane, decisive and forceful leadership can be invaluable as such circumstances demand swift and firm actions.

To drive expected results, the commanding leaders need not only to seize opportunities, but also take the initiative, set the right course of action, and take appropriate measures to get things done. It is expected that by being far-sighted, they can make decisions on the spot without weighing up options for ages. 

As the coercive approach ought to be used skillfully and sparingly, targeted at situations that heavily need it, skilled leaders know when to use a strong hand and when to drop it.

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How to be a commanding leader:

  • Require total obedience of employees;
  • Exercise full control over everything;
  • Focus on people’s missteps;
  • Don’t praise employees;
  • Don’t delegate authority;
  • Be cold, intimidating and highly demanding;  
  • Criticize severely;
  • Don’t tell people how their work fits into the company mission;
  • Act forcefully;
  • Stifle employees’ initiative;
  • Make decisions fast;
  • Be oblivious to employees’ feelings and reactions;
  • Fire employees erratically.
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Depending on the situation, seasoned leaders realize they should use different leadership styles from the leadership tool kit since each approach is intended to meet different leadership goals. Leaders who can juggle various leadership styles artfully are the most effective and deliver the best results.    

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“Leadership That Gets Results”, by Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review

"Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman

"Primal Leadership, Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee 

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Author: Justine Ilone Siporski is the founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of BUSINESS POWERHOUSE, the founder and CEO of LANGUAGE EMPIRE, coach, trainer, investor and columnist dedicated to the advancement of entrepreneurs, investors and the C-suite (CMOs, CEOs, CFOs, CIOs). Her key mission is to support leaders, business professionals and investors in achieving their highest potential, making the right business and investing decisions, and expanding their horizons.