Emotional Intelligence

by Andy Smith

Leadership styles and the emotional climate

Six styles of leadership have different effects on the emotional climate of a team or organisation, according to Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee. Note that they are styles of leadership rather than types of leader – most people will probably adopt a range of styles. The authors divide the styles into ‘resonant’ (contributing to a positive emotional climate) and ‘dissonant’ (producing a negative emotional climate).

Dissonant leadership styles

These two styles can be a useful part of the leader’s armoury, but need to be used sparingly because of their negative emotional impact.

Commanding: ‘Because I tell you to’

Commanding leaders expect immediate compliance, without bothering to explain the reasons behind their orders. They are jealous of their control and will not delegate. Performance feedback focuses on what the person did wrong.

Useful: in crisis situations and emergencies

Not useful: any other time. This style spreads fear and disaffection throughout the organisation. Employees will tend to be scared and will only tell the leader what they think he or she wants to hear.

Pacesetting: ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’

Pacesetting leaders pile on the pressure. They have high standards and expect everyone to live up to them. They are goal-focused, and constantly demand yet more from their employees. They quickly identify weak performers and then they raise their game – and are prepared to step in and take over the work themselves.

Useful: when leading a team of highly motivated and skilled professionals. This style can work in the early stages of a start-up or with a highly-competitive sales or R&D team.

Not useful: when employees feel that too much is demanded of them, when they feel the leader cares only about the goal and not about them, or when they are not experienced enough to ‘just know’ what to do and have to try to guess what the leader wants. The more pressure is piled on, the more it leads to anxiety, which is the enemy of innovation and creativity.

If they are not careful, pacesetting leaders can end up doing people’s work for them – the classic mistake of a technician in their first management job. This leads to high stress for the overworked leader and frustration for the employees who don’t get to develop.

Resonant leadership styles

Democratic: ‘Let’s talk about it’

The democratic leader is an excellent listener, good at managing conflict and healing rifts within the team. They value everyone’s input and are looking for consensus.

Useful: when you yourself aren’t sure what to do, when working with people who are more experienced than you and when you want to generate new ideas.

Not useful: when it becomes a way of avoiding tough decisions and generates endless meetings.

Affiliative: ‘How are you feeling?’

Affiliative leaders value harmony and emotional connections between people, even above getting the job done. They are open about what they are feeling and build good relationships with their team members.

Useful: to raise morale after a setback and to restore trust. This style of leadership combines well with the ‘visionary’ style (see below).

Not useful: when the leader is so relationship-focused that the task is forgotten. Also, if people only get positive feedback, they may not realise when they are underperforming.

Coaching: ‘What could you do to solve this?’

This style focuses on the long-term development of people rather than just short-term goals. The leader will set challenging assignments that stretch people, helping them to attune their ambitions and values to those of the team.

Useful: most of the time. The rapport and trust that coaching leaders generate allows people to be more open to performance feedback, leading to better results.

Not useful: if the employee lacks motivation or if the leader does not have enough self-awareness and empathy to carry it off.

Visionary: ‘I have a dream’

This style sees the big picture and is able to communicate it to everyone in the team, so it becomes a shared vision in which each person understands why their contribution is important. Key qualities are empathy, self-confidence and honesty.

Useful: almost always, but particularly when there is no clear sense of direction.

Not useful: if team members are more expert than the leader or if the leader becomes overbearing in pursuit of the vision.