Leadership style that works for you

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

– John C. Maxwell 1

Leadership is a tricky business. It’s like walking on a tight rope between two buildings 50 stories high while juggling with fireballs. In the corporate world, leadership is all about understanding the situation and getting the best out of your team in that situation. A lot has been spoken about leadership. There are folk tales of legendary leaders in the respective fields, there are rockstar leaders that inspire people just with their name. Let me get to the practicality of the way a leader conducts herself and its impact on the day-to-day life of your company, your team, and each individual working with you.

Let me pose a few situations to the “Leader” inside you. Imagine a situation where you have just taken over a team and you see that the team members are working in a directionless manner. Or where there are open or hidden conflicts going on amongst the team members. Or a situation where a team member is not performing up to the level she should be. Or where someone started attacking your company from outside. How would you react as a leader in all these situations? Would your response be the same in each of these situations? I am sure your answer would be a resounding “No”.

The simple fact is that you are posed with a variety of situations on a daily basis and you need to act in accordance with the situation. This is where the adaptability of your leadership style comes in. Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie Mckee describe 6 unique leadership styles in their book “Primal Leadership” 2. The 6 leadership styles that they describe are the weapons that every “leader” or “to be a leader” must have in their repertoire to be an effective leader

6 Emotional Leadership Styles

The six leadership styles are a mix of resonant and dissonant styles. Hence, it’s important to understand each style in its entirety and the nuances associated with each. Each of these styles is to be adopted during specific situations. Hence, a competent leader needs to identify the situation and pick the style suited for that situation. Moreover, the leader must know how to effectively use that style to achieve success in that situation. However, the pitfall for a leader comes when 1-2 or the leadership styles are well developed, and they automatically dominate other situations as well.

Visionary Leader – “Come with me”

Visionary leaders inspire people around them. They can excite the team members about the new direction that they are about to embark upon but don’t tell them how they will get there. Moreover, she leaves the team to figure out a common way to get there. The leader must be seen as a competent person to set the new vision and lead the team towards it. Also, the leader can influence others to get the buy-in towards this new direction without overpowering them. However, it only works when the leader believes in the vision and the excitement is clearly visible. Adopt this style when the team needs a new vision or a drastic change in the way things are done currently.

Coaching Leader – “Try this way”

Coaching leaders help the team members to develop their long-term skills and also help them to realize contributions to the overall team goal. So, the focus for Coaching Leaders is to give a support system to the team members that need it. This style focuses solely on the long term and sacrifices short-term performance to allow space for experimentation. This is best suited in situations where you see that the team member is struggling and has the potential to perform much better given some mentoring. In case the team member doesn’t make the required efforts, the leader’s attempt in coaching/mentoring her would fail.

Affiliative – “People come first”

Affiliative leaders are all about bringing people together. The primary focus is on maintaining harmony in the team and resolving/preventing conflicts within the team. Moreover, these leaders can create strong emotional bonds with the team members. To achieve this, they are fine with being emotionally vulnerable themselves in front of the individual members. To be successful in this style, the leader must be empathetic and comfortable handling emotions. Since the focus of such leaders is a lot on people, focus on tasks and performance takes a back seat. For best results, use it in times when individuals are going through difficult times or there is conflict within the group.

Democratic – “What do you think?”

Democratic leaders build collaboration. They leverage the team’s collective expertise and intelligence to find solutions. They actively seek inputs from the team members, who are experts in their respective areas. Moreover, Democratic leaders adopt a listening mode rather than directing mode as it helps in the team opening up and sharing openly. Also, Democratic leaders build consensus and get everyone on board. Since consensus building may take time, it impacts taking quick decisions. For this style to work, the leader must have a competent and motivated set of individuals working with her.

Pace Setting – “Do as I do, now”

Pace-setting leaders focus solely on performance. For these leaders, everything is done better and faster than before. Pace-setting leaders are high performers themselves. They set the examples that they want their team members to follow. In case the team members falter, these leaders do not think twice before jumping in between and rescuing the situation themselves. Since the sole focus is on excellence, this doesn’t work positively on members who are not up to the mark. This style achieves the best results with highly competent and motivated individuals, who need a little direction. In general, extensive use of this style leads to burnout and frequent churn of team members, even for highly competent individuals. Hence, use this style sparingly when you need to deliver high performance quickly.

Commanding – “Do what I tell you”

Commanding leaders demand obedience. Also, this leadership style is autocratic in nature and thrives on control and negative reinforcement. Moreover, the leader focuses on clear directives to the team and constant monitoring along with coercion to get things done. As a result, the positive impact of this style is very minimal and can quickly lead to over-use and extremely negative impact on team members. So, the use of this style is only limited to crisis situations or when not following the given direction can lead to serious life and health impact on someone. Also, one can adopt this style while dealing with incompetent team members when all else has failed. Since this is the most dissonant style, leaders must know exactly when to apply and when to stop this style.

One style fit all?

Business situations are complex and so are the individuals that leaders deal with on a daily basis. Clearly, one style can not fit all situations. Hence, as a leader, you must focus on understanding the nuances, strengths, and weaknesses of all these styles. You may have a natural style that you go to. However, you must understand all situations and when to adopt a given style. Moreover, the art of successfully leading a team comes in quickly realizing which situation you find yourself in and effectively adopting the relevant style to achieve success.

Since these styles impact positive and negative emotions in employees, each of these styles has a distinct impact on the company’s culture. We will be writing individual pieces on each of these styles and how do they impact your company’s culture. To find out what impact your company’s leadership style has on your company’s culture, reach out to us at [email protected]


  1. https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/leader
  2. Primal Leadership – Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, Annie McKee

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