None of the six leadership styles by Daniel Goleman are right or wrong – each may be appropriate depending on the specific context. Whilst one of the more empathetic styles is most likely to be needed to build long-term commitment, there will be occasions when a commanding style may need to be called upon, for example, when a rapid and decisive response is required.
Coercive leadership is the least effective in most situations. The leader’s extreme top-down decision making kills new ideas. People feel disrespected. Their sense of responsibility evaporates. Unable to act on their own initiative, they lose their sense of ownership and feel little accountability for their performance. The coercive style should be used only with extreme caution and in the few situations when it is absolutely imperative, such as during a turnaround or when a hostile takeover is looming.
The authoritative leader motivates people by making it clear to them how their work fits into a larger vision for the organisation. When the leader gives performance feedback, the main criterion is whether or not that performance furthers the vision. The standards for success are clear to all. Authoritative leaders give people the freedom to innovate, experiment, and take calculated risks. The authoritative style tends to work well in many business situations but fails, when the team consists of experts or peers who are more experienced than the leader.
The affiliative leader strives to keep employees happy, to create harmony and to increase loyalty by building strong emotional bonds. Affiliative leaders give people the freedom to do their job in the way they think is most effective. Affiliative leaders are likely to take their direct reports out for a meal or a drink, to see how they’re doing. They will take out the time to celebrate a group accomplishment. They are natural relationship builders. The affiliative style is effective in many situations but it is particularly suitable when trying to build team harmony, increase morale, improve communication, or repair broken trust. One problem with the affiliative style is that because of its exclusive focus on praise, employees may perceive that mediocrity is tolerated. And because affiliative leaders rarely offer constructive advice on how to improve, employees must figure out how to do so on their own.
Democratic leaders increase flexibility and responsibility by letting workers themselves have a say in decisions that affect their goals and how they do their work. By listening to employees’ concerns, the democratic leaders learn what to do to keep morale high. People have a say in setting their goals and performance evaluation criteria. So they tend to be very realistic about what can and cannot be accomplished. But the democratic style can lead to endless meetings and postponement of crucial decisions in the hope that sufficient discussion and debate will eventually yield a great outcome. The democratic style does not make sense when employees are not competent or informed enough to offer sound advice. Such an approach also does not make sense during a crisis.
Pacesetting leaders set extremely high performance standards, are obsessive about doing things better and faster, and demand the same from everyone around them. If poor performers don’t rise to the occasion, these leaders do not hesitate to replace them with people who can. The pacesetter’s demands for excellence can overwhelm employees and their morale drops. Such leaders also give no feedback on how people are doing. They jump in to take over when they think people are lagging. When they leave, people feel directionless as they’re so used to “the expert” setting the rules.
Coaching leaders help employees identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and consider their personal and career aspirations. They encourage employees to establish long-term development goals and help them conceptualize a plan for attaining them. Coaching leaders excel at delegating, give employees challenging assignments, are willing to put up with short-term failure, and focus primarily on personal development. When employees know their boss watches them and cares about what they do, they feel free to experiment. People know what is expected of them and how their work fits into a larger vision or strategy. The coaching style works particularly well when employees are already aware of their weaknesses and would like to improve their performance. By contrast, the coaching style makes little sense when employees, for whatever reason, are resistant to learning or changing their ways. And it fails if the leader is inept at coaching.