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Our leadership style has a profound impact on our ability to build our brands, generate revenue and have satisfying careers.  In my travels as a executive leadership strategist coaching executives and business owners I found an excellent study on how our leadership style impacts the organizational climate. This work makes academic concepts easy to understand and apply in everyday life.


This is my synopsis of the main ideas reported by researcher Daniel Goleman’s Harvard Business Review article identifying identified six distinct leadership styles and the correlation to organizational climate as an indicator of performance. [1]

  • Coercive leadership is characterized by a “Do what I tell you – Now!” approach. The focus is on immediate compliance. It can be useful in a crisis, to start a turnaround or with problem employees.   It can also create passive aggressive behavior, spur rebellion, demotivate high performers and kill creativity.
  • Authoritative leadership is characterized by at “Come with me!” approach. It can motivate people towards a solution, gives leeway on how to achieve a result and allows freedom to innovate. Yet in high-performing teams of equals there may be a negative impact, and overuse of this style can become overbearing.
  • Affiliative leadership focuses on people first. It can create harmony and emotional bonds with the leaders. It is focused on communication, teambuilding and creating loyalty. This style is helpful for repairing broken trust, increasing morale and improving communication. There is risk with this approach because the team must figure out their own approach in the absence of clear direction and the focus on praise can allow poor performance.
  • Democratic leadership, as you may expect, is characterized by “What do you think?” It helps forge consensus through participation, improves morale and fosters creativity. Yet it can result in endless meetings and discussions without results, delay decision making and result in underperforming teams.
  • Pacesetting leadership can be captured with the phrase “Do as I do, Now”.   This leader sets high performance standards, drives people to achieve and leads by example with a “keep up with me” ethos.   This style can foster continuous improvement and get results. Yet employees can feel overwhelmed by the pace or unclear standards. Used to an extreme it can lower trust, undermine responsibility and reduce flexibility.
  • Coaching leadership style allows people to “try this”. It is focused on long term development of people for the future, provides instruction and feedback and room for people to fail.   This style of leadership takes significant extra time, effort and expertise. It teaches teams to communicate, lead themselves and rise to the challenge.

As you’ve read these descriptions you’ve probably been thinking about which style you are, or perhaps the style used by others in your organization. You may even have thought that you use a variety or combination of these styles in your day to day leadership.   And you would be right. Different situations require different styles of leadership – and the best leaders understand when and how to use each style.   Yet even the best leaders have a “default” preference – it is the style they revert to when under pressure and the one they are most comfortable with.

You might expect, the coercive style has the most negative impact on climate. What I didn’t expect was that the pacesetting style is a close second to coercive for the most negative impact on climate.   The two most positive correlations were authoritative and affiliative, while democratic and coaching were at the mid-point.

The message here is that we, as leaders, must be conscious of the leadership styles we apply to any given situation. We must be mindful of our default style and over-using any one style with a given team or situation.   And we must recognize that our own perception of our style may not match the perception of those we lead.   Finally, remember that as leaders we are learners – and there is always room for improvement.

To learn more about the study and read Daniel Goleman’s article visit and search for “Leadership That Gets Results”. From there you will find a link to read the article or buy reprints for a nominal charge – it is well worth the investment in becoming a better leader.

[1] Goleman, D. Leadership That Gets Results. Harvard Business Review; March-April 2000


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