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Affiliative Leadership Examples in the Workplace

Updated July 12, 2022 by Carl Lindberg

When I discuss leadership styles with others, they often ask me for examples of affiliative leadership in the workplace. For some reason, it seems daunting to find those excellent examples that are easily translated to other workplaces. This article provides you with workplace examples that hopefully inspire you to be an affiliative leader.

For those unfamiliar with the affiliative leadership style, here is a short summary copied from our main article on affiliative leadership. If you already know this style, scroll down a bit to reach the examples of affiliative leadership in the workplace. (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.)

Affiliative Leadership, a short summary

Affiliative leadership is wholly focused on the people and relationships in an organization. The leader’s primary task is to ensure harmony and friendship in the workplace. This leads to happy employees but can at the same time lead to poor performance.

Daniel Goleman is credited with conceptualizing affiliative leadership in 2002.  Affiliative Leadership was presented as one of the Six Leadership Styles by Goleman (link to our detailed article on the topic). His research revealed that an affiliative leader focuses on resolving team conflicts so that all team members feel positively connected to each other. Team tensions often prevent organizations from achieving their goals. Affiliative leaders attempt to solve this problem by strengthening relationships and connecting with each team member emotionally. Affiliative leaders can be beneficial for a team in deep crisis or turmoil so that a new team needs to emerge. Furthermore, affiliative leadership is extra beneficial when shaping a new team from scratch since it creates trust and a sense of belonging that can weld the team members together in a good way. 

One needs to be careful with this leadership style, though, since it can go too far. Most organizations have long-term reasons to exist, and those are rarely that the employees shall have as peaceful existence as possible. A leader that becomes friends with his or her team and an organization that prioritizes harmony above achieving business goals can be a long-term performance problem.

Now that you understand the basics, continue below and read a short story describing a situation with a team member who gets into sudden trouble and how his affiliative leader and team help him back on track. After the story, you can find a list of ten affiliative leadership examples in the workplace. This summary is pasted from our main article on affiliative leadership.

Affiliative leadership example in the workplace

This example of affiliative leadership in the workplace involves a team member that is experiencing emotional problems. Imagine a sales team of six people covering a particular region together. A few of them are overworked, and the situation is truly getting out of hand for one of them in particular, let’s call him Jim. Besides being overworked, Jim has also experienced a few failed projects recently. He has some quality complaints at his major customer. One of his old friends in another department recently left the company, making Jim feel more alone than before.

Jim’s leader, Sarah, a skilled affiliative leader, saw Jim’s demeanor get more and more depressed over a few weeks, but despite checking in with him, Jim assured her and everyone else that everything was ok. Being an affiliative leader, Sarah kept watching and monitoring him closer than usual, concerned that Jim was not doing good. Luckily, Sarah had already put many affiliative leadership parameters in place in the team.

Here are examples of how affiliative leadership matters in the workplace:

  • Team members genuinely feel that an affiliative leader cares about them
  • The affiliative leader knows the team members, how they feel and how they normally act
  • Affiliative leadership builds a tightly knit team where the team members know each other and care about each other

Given this, another team member has already spoken to Sarah. This team member had similar concerns about Jim, which hadn’t been himself lately. Sarah continued to talk to Jim on how he was feeling and how he was doing, assuring that he had plenty of opportunities to bring up what was bothering him. By doing this, Jim didn’t have to “come to her” with a problem, something many people avoid, but was regularly asked about his situation, thus reducing the threshold for Jim to speak up.

One day, a few weeks into the added focus by Sarah, the affiliative leader, Jim broke into tears when asked how he was doing. It turns out his situation was even worse than Sarah and the team had thought. Jim had several sales leads at risk, was concerned about his performance and what a drop in his sales bonus would mean for his family. He had lost his close friend that he usually spoke to about difficult things, and his workload, in combination with a few angry customers, had become too much. Jim hadn’t slept properly for two weeks and considered seeing a doctor to help him with sleep deprivation, headaches, and other stress symptoms.

Being a good example of an affiliative leader in the workplace, Sarah spoke at length with Jim to understand the situation to the best extent possible. She furthermore made sure that Jim understood he had done the right thing in explaining how he felt and that there was no shame in his behavior that day. Furthermore, she asked Jim’s permission to speak to the rest of the team about the situation and work on a joint plan to improve the situation and provide well-needed relief for Jim. As Jim knew the team well and trusted them, he didn’t mind Sarah involving them but did ask her to tone down the tears and some other parts of the story that made him feel a bit embarrassed. Sarah promised to handle it appropriately.

How does the affiliative leader set an example in the workplace?

The affiliative leader sets an example to the entire team by getting involved in the emotional well-being of the team members and showing genuine care and willingness to help. (For external examples, refer to Affiliative leadership examples in business.)

Sarah gathered the remainder of the team, excluding Jim. Thanks to the strong trust and loyalty in the group, Sarah didn’t have to be explicit about Jim’s situation. She explained that Jim was under severe pressure and that his health and well-being were at risk. Sarah furthermore underlined that she would not go into symptoms or specifics more than necessary but rather asked the team to trust her and accept that the situation was difficult and required immediate remedy.

The affiliative team brainstormed ideas on how they could help relieve some of the pressure Jim was experiencing. Once completed, the team went through the list with Jim. He agreed to a few suggestions, such as a colleague taking over a complicated quality complaint situation, another taking over a larger tender, and a third deciding to handle some regular reports that Jim usually put together. This mitigation plan resulted in the following and is an excellent example of what affiliative leadership in the workplace can result in:

  • A strong feeling of being supported by your leader and your team member provides comfort in difficult times
  • The intense loyalty and care of the team members mean that they can take over tasks and assist with the workload if one member is pushed beyond the limits
  • The entire team saw how much the affiliative leader and all the colleagues cared for the team member in trouble, and every single team member felt that they too would be taken care of in times of crisis
  • The strong affiliative relationships meant few questions were asked, and the entire team focused immediately on helping the colleague rather than pointing fingers

After a month or two, Jim slept better, felt better, and had one or two successes, putting him onto a positive trajectory. These positive changes were enough for Jim to get back on track and be up to full capacity again. The rest of the team could stand down, everyone feeling they had done the right thing and felt comfort in knowing that they would receive the same help if they would ever need it. Remember that you should also try to use the other leadership styles of this framework. (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.)

10 Affiliative Leadership examples in the workplace

  1. People ask how others are doing and genuinely care about the response. This keeps team members up to date on what is happening in the lives of their colleagues.
  2. Affiliative leaders need to be open themselves to set an example. This can be done by telling others about a few personal things, such as your kids, what you did during the weekend, as well as providing a well-calibrated amount of emotional transparency. An affiliative leader who is stressed or a bit down can explain this to the team without being perceived as weird.
  3. Offering to help a colleague that seems to need assistance before they even ask for it. Proactively helping each other is an excellent example of affiliative leadership in the workplace since it underlines that people have understanding and interest in the well-being of others.
  4. Affiliative leaders understand and respect that employees have a life outside of work. This means that meetings are booked appropriately, avoiding evenings and weekends, and the workload is properly dimensioned.
  5. An affiliative team’s care for each other can result in swift help when someone in the group is under emotional pressure.
  6. Affiliative teams can more easily provide each other with constructive feedback since there is no bad intent and no perception of ill will.
  7. Good affiliative leadership in the workplace ensures that conflicts are handled respectfully and appropriately to be resolved and not grow and fester over time.
  8. When changes impacting the team are presented, they get an opportunity to speak their mind and how they feel about it. If possible, any concerns will be addressed.
  9. Affiliative leadership means planning team activities that work for all and are done together, even if not preferred. You don’t go horseback riding if one in the team has severe allergies making participation impossible. You don’t discuss important things at an after-work on Friday evenings if two team members need to be with their families. Affiliative leaders do not exclude people this way.
  10. Affiliative leadership in the workplace also means that one person’s bad mood or poor attitude isn’t allowed to ruin the environment for everyone else. Having a bad day has its limits, and there is support to get. Going too far and ruining it for others repeatedly is not acceptable in affiliative leadership

If you want to learn more and become a better leader, refer to our main article on Affiliative Leadership as well as our deep-dive on affiliative leadership examples in business and the six leadership styles based on Emotional Intelligence (of which affiliative leadership is one). (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.)

Alternatively, visit our leadership styles portal for information on more than twenty-five different styles of leadership.

For Sources: refer to the above-mentioned article on Affiliative leadership.

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