Daniel Goleman’s article, Leadership that gets results, is one of the best articles in the Harvard Business Review archives. As a prominent author of the book, Emotional intelligence, Goleman combines his expertise in emotional intelligence with research on leadership styles conducted by the Hay / McBer consulting firm. His research uncovers six different leadership styles. Goleman concludes that there is no best style, but the best leaders use their emotional intelligence to determine which style is best suited to their specific situation. It describes each of the leadership styles, their advantages and disadvantages, and provides some brief examples of how a leader might apply the style. Every leader or aspiring leader should understand each of these styles and how they can be used:
Coercive style: This is a compliance-focused style characterized by the phrase “Do what I tell you.” Although this style works well in extreme circumstances of a crisis or radical change, in most cases it will have a negative impact on the overall organization once the crisis has passed.
Authoritarian style: This style is used by leaders who have a clear vision of the organization and can bring people together by saying, “Come with me.” In general, it is a positive style and works very well when an organization that has failed in the past can be inspired to move in the direction of a new vision.
Affiliate Style: This is a style that leaders use to build harmony and teamwork within an organization. It is characterized by the phrase “People come first.” Leaders will use this style to break silos, build relationships, and get people to communicate and cooperate.
Democratic style: As the name implies, this style is used to get people to buy and build consensus. It is best described by the phrase “What do you think?” It works well in professional settings where subordinates have extensive experience and access to information so they can collaborate to make informed, consensus-based decisions. However, the democratic style can also be frustrating because it will require many meetings and discussions to reach consensus.
Style that sets the pace: This style is often used by leaders who have technical experience and can lead by example. Hence the phrase “Do what I do now” best describes this style. Establishing a pace can achieve quick results if the team is experienced and primarily needs to be motivated; However, this style can also be demotivating, as the focus is on leader performance and high standards. It prevents some team members from demonstrating their own leadership and expertise, or causes others to be overwhelmed by the fast pace and exacting standards.
Style coaching: This style is used by leaders to develop people through coaching. Those using the coaching style will suggest ideas to subordinates with the catchphrase, “try this.” This style works well when people are receptive to coaching, but it may also require patience and a willingness to accept failure from the leader / coach when subordinates are in learning mode.
Goleman’s conclusion that there is no one best style is supported by additional research that correlates six factors of organizational climate with each of the styles. Organizational factors include: flexibility, responsibility, standards, rewards, clarity, and commitment. Research shows that coercive and pacing styles have a negative correlation on organizational climate, while the other four styles have a positive impact. Therefore, except in unusual circumstances where coercive and pacing styles may be appropriate, leaders typically must use a combination of authoritarian, affiliative, democratic, and coaching styles to be successful. The best leaders will see from their emotional intelligence when to use each of these styles. Whether you are an aspiring leader or a leader looking to reach the next level of leadership excellence, Goleman’s article is an excellent primer on how to effectively use different leadership styles.