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What Are the Six Leadership Styles by Daniel Goleman? - HRDQ

What Are the Six Leadership Styles by Daniel Goleman?

There's a pervasive narrative throughout business culture that trickles down through school and invades social interaction. That narrative is the idea that leadership is an inborn quality, that natural-born leaders are somehow stronger or more intelligent or better than the people around them, and that they deserve to be placed on a pedestal and idolized.

Most people recognize that most of this is nonsense, though there is often a small amount of hero worship for "born leaders" even in the most rational individuals.  

The truth is leadership is much more nuanced than many people might realize. It is not a single trait; it's not inherent, and it's learnable. Moreover, there are different leadership styles, and two different, highly effective leaders can operate in entirely different ways.

If you're hoping to become a leader, take on a leadership role, or even train someone else to become a leader, it's a great idea to learn the different leadership styles. After all, you can't learn how to get where you're going without knowing where you start.

While there are several different leadership frameworks, one of the most popular that has stood the test of time is the six emotional leadership styles by Daniel Goleman.

Who is Daniel Goleman?

Daniel Goleman is an author and journalist. He was born in 1946 in California and graduated from Harvard University. He has studied in India, traveled the world, and spent many years writing about science, emotional intelligence, social learning, the ecological crisis, and more. He wrote for Psychology Today and the New York Times for many years. You can find his website here.

Much of Goleman's contributions to the world of HR, Leadership, and Training comes from three books:

  • Emotional Intelligence, published in 1995
  • Working with Emotional Intelligence, published in 1998
  • Primal Leadership, published in 2001

Together, these three books present the case that there's more to leadership and success in business and society than mere IQ and logical rationality. People are emotional beings, and emotions – and emotional intelligence – play a large part in interacting with other human beings.

Emotional Intelligence has received a 25th-anniversary printing with a new introduction, further refining his ideas for the new age.

Daniel Goleman

For some people, the idea of emotional intelligence being an important part of leadership, culture, and business development is not novel or exciting. The reason for that is Goleman's work, pioneered in the 90s, which is mainly responsible for the paradigm shift in the first place.  

One of Goleman's significant contributions to the field is the definition of six leadership styles, based on different aspects of emotional intelligence and the balance between emotions, cognitive drivers, and social interaction. No one leadership style is "best" or even better than others; in fact, the core thesis of Goleman's work is that understanding and emphasizing your leadership style is essential to becoming a better leader, not trying to fit the traditional mold of "leadership" as defined in the past.

What are his six leadership styles?

Authoritative/Visionary Leadership

First up is authoritative leadership, also known as visionary leadership. The name has changed over the years; Goleman identifies it as authoritative, but the word's negative connotations have led many leadership-based communities and frameworks to change it to a more positive name, Visionary.

Visionary leadership focuses on setting a "big picture" goal, a vision that everyone in an organization or team strives to reach. Visionaries provide a "why" but not necessarily a "how" to their team. They enable their team to take calculated risks, experiment, and open up potentially new or unseen paths to achieve their goals.

Visionary Leadership Style

A key aspect of Visionary leadership is that such leaders provide clarity on why the work of any given individual matters to the overall goal. That helps reduce uncertainty in individuals, provides clear goals, and helps people feel that their contributions are tangibly beneficial to the organization and progress towards successful goals.

Visionary leaders are inspiring. They rally their team towards a common goal, and they don't rest until everyone is on the same page and progressing in the right direction. They don't necessarily give specific orders or a rigid structure; they encourage experimentation and risk-taking within reason. Often, their overall goals are a combination between tangible metrics and specific achievements and an overarching "dream" they want the group to achieve.

Coaching Leadership

Coaching leaders are some of the most deeply engaged, emotionally available, and invested leaders of all the six leadership styles. Coaching leaders are frequently focused not on overall goals or the big picture but rather on the individual details of the lives and development of their direct reports.

Coaching leadership is often downplayed in the modern workforce, primarily because it's often lumped in with "professional development" and treated as an onerous burden rather than an investment in employees. Actual coaches invest in their reports because they believe that employees you invest in produce better outcomes, not because it's some expectation or directive from on high.

Coaching Leadership Style

The most effective coaches spend time getting to know their employees personally and professionally, often to the point of becoming legitimate friends. These leaders help their employees pinpoint their specific strengths and weaknesses, often through assessments like those found in our Reproducible Training Library. Through awareness, these leaders build avenues for investing in the growth and skills of their employees.

This personal and professional investment and the emotional connection between employee and leader bolsters investment, loyalty, productivity, efficacy, and success in the workplace. Coaches challenge their employees to reach outside of their comfort zone but are there to support them in their journey towards improvement.

Affiliative Leadership

Affiliative leaders focus not on business objectives or tangible skills but rather on culture, harmony, teamwork, and social engagement.

The core emphasis of an affiliative leader is often communication. Affiliative leaders build a rapport, not just between themselves and their reports as in a coaching style, but between their employees and teams. Their goal is to create a roster that works well together, communicates and resolves conflicts effectively, and builds upon the skills and efforts of one another.

This leadership style was popular for a while, where the buzzword "synergy" began to be thrown about. Truly affiliative leaders do leverage synergy in the workplace to produce outcomes greater than the individual components of their team could produce individually. However, the cynical use of a synergistic buzzword isn't true affiliative leadership.

Affiliative Leadership Style

A core benefit of affiliative leadership is the recognition of stress and burnout as the problems they are. Rather than push their employees to the brink, affiliative leaders value downtime and stress relief activities to build further emotional capital, which can then be used to foster a more inclusive and effective work environment.

The greatest weakness of affiliative leaders is a frequent inability to give critical feedback or take actions that could disrupt the harmony of the workplace, leading to stagnation or low results. Often, they are paired with visionary leaders to work in tandem to drive business success.

Democratic Leadership

One of the core values of a good work environment is open, clear communication. Managers and directors who maintain open lines of communication can receive feedback, adjust their perceptions and expectations, and even change the company's direction if ground-level feedback indicates that their current direction is destined for ruin.

Democratic leaders take this to the extreme. They are excellent communicators, excellent listeners, and adept at taking criticism and feedback in stride. They understand that they and their decisions aren't perfect, and they recognize that those around them have skills and experiences that surpass their own in many aspects.

Democratic Leadership Style

In a way, democratic leaders are more akin to team members who guide a team than top-down leaders. When a decision must be made, they present the evidence and situation to their team, and the team discusses it. Through discussion and the democratic process, a decision is reached, and the leader then takes it to report to those higher up in the chain.

A key benefit to a democratic leadership style is synergizing vastly disparate lived experiences and skill sets. When a diverse team comes together, opposing viewpoints can clash; the democratic leader helps facilitate this conflict constructively.  

Unfortunately, this leadership style tends to falter if the team involved is not confident, skilled, or outspoken. Moreover, a democratic leader who cannot make their own decisions when the time comes to choose is an ineffective leader.

Pacesetting Leadership

Pacesetting leaders are among the most dangerous when mishandled but the most effective when given the right resources.

Pacesetting leadership is a leadership style where the leader strives to push everyone in their team – themselves included – to newer and greater heights. Standards increase, performance objectives rise, expectations grow, and it all compounds. If an individual team member fails to live up to those standards, they can and will be replaced with someone who can.

Very often, a pacesetting leader can enter a new environment and try to kick it into high gear, only to cause stress and burnout, essentially destroying a team along the way. This leadership style is highly effective in only one situation: when everyone on the team is highly skilled, highly motivated, and independent enough to have the drive to out-do their past self and their teammates.  

Pacesetting Leadership Style

A pacesetting leader must be an authority, an expert, and a driving force. If their team rises to the challenge, only to find they've left their leader behind, the leader themselves may be ousted and replaced.

When used correctly, a pacesetting leader can foster extreme growth and blow performance objectives out of the water. When misused, a pacesetting leader can dramatically increase turnover and loss of institutional knowledge and fail to achieve anything meaningful. Many will blame the teams for not being motivated, though often, the leader is inappropriate for the situation.

Commanding Leadership

Commanding leaders are leaders whose core driving force is unwavering obedience. Consider a military structure, where a leader issues commands and expects them to be followed to the letter. There is little or no room for creative thinking or violating the letter of the law.

A commanding leader prizes consistency and automation over creative thinking and debate in many cases. They issue orders and expect them to be followed. They offer no room for discussion and, indeed, rarely even justify or explain their orders. In some cases, even going above and beyond the order is frowned upon; deviance from the norm will be punished.

Commanding Leadership Style

A commanding leader must be a complete expert in their field and specialty, and they must prove, consistently, that their decisions are the right ones. Otherwise, confidence in their leadership is undermined, and their command begins to falter.

This leadership style is often detrimental; indeed, it's closest to leadership before the recognition of emotional intelligence itself. However, in times of genuine crisis or emergency, a decisive, commanding leader taking charge can perform a miracle where any other leadership style wouldn't be able to make the tough decisions necessary to survive.

What's Your Leadership Style?

While these leadership styles are all distinct, sometimes it can be pretty challenging to self-assess and identify your leadership style. That's why we offer assessments such as What's My Leadership Style, which are engineered to help an individual discover their mixture of styles. This, coupled with training modules, can help you become a better leader by recognizing your strengths and weaknesses, and striving to better your leadership proclivities.  

Leader of Team

To be sure, Daniel Goleman's six leadership styles are not the only leadership framework out there. People rarely fall nicely into any single category, and many leaders will have aspects of two, three, or more leadership styles in their attitudes. Self-awareness is the key; once you know your position, you can adjust it for better and more effective leadership.

Do you have any questions about any of these listed leadership styles? Are you having any troubles differentiating the leadership styles? If so, please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we'll get back to you within a day or two! We make it a point to reply to every comment or question we receive and would be more than happy to assist you however we possibly can.

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About our author

Bradford R. Glaser

Brad is President and CEO of HRDQ, a publisher of soft-skills learning solutions, and HRDQ-U, an online community for learning professionals hosting webinars, workshops, and podcasts. His 35+ years of experience in adult learning and development have fostered his passion for improving the performance of organizations, teams, and individuals.