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Affiliative Leadership – What is it? Pros/Cons? Examples?

Updated September 30, 2022 by Carl Lindberg

I have seen some strong affiliative leadership during my CEO career. These examples have strong team bonds and loyalty in common. On the surface, the affiliative leadership style may seem ideal since it focuses on a team’s emotional needs. However, there are some challenges associated with making this modern leadership style work effectively. Let us start with a quick and brief explanation of the concept.

What is affiliative leadership?
Affiliative leadership is completely 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 also lead to poor performance.

Here is our full video on Affiliative Leadership, the article continues further below and explains the concept, pros and cons, and several examples of affiliative leadership.

What is Affiliative Leadership?

An affiliative leader’s mantra is simple – “Let harmony reign!” Affiliative leaders adopt a people-first approach and attempt to create and sustain a peaceful work environment.

Affiliative leadership focuses on building team bonds, relationships, and emotional connections, while quickly resolving any team conflicts. The aim of affiliative leadership is to establish a positive feeling of harmony in the team. The affiliative leader connects personally with each team member, and ensures that connections are established between all the team members respectively. Given the focus on relationships, affiliative leadership can be very helpful when a new team is forming or when an existing team is in turmoil requiring emotional support.

Affiliative leadership must be used carefully, since the relationship building can go too far. Extreme emphasis on harmony and people can result in a loss of focus on the true goals of the organization. A leader that becomes close friends with his or her team and prioritizes harmony above achieving business goals can be a long-term performance problem, resulting in country club leadership. Plenty of leadership research shows that a leader needs to balance people focus and task focus to reach optimum performance. (Refer to both Ohio State Studies and Michigan University Studies.)

The affiliative leadership style is one out of the six styles conceptualized by Daniel Goleman. The others are Commanding/Directive Leadership, Democratic Leadership, Pacesetting leadership, Visionary Leadership, and Coaching Leadership. It is imperative that you see Affiliative Leadership as one out of six tools in your toolbox and attempt to use all of them over time. Hence, you should read the main article on the Six Leadership Styles by Goleman to fully comprehend how to use these styles.

The Characteristics of Affiliative Leadership

A strong people focus, and a strong moral compass are cornerstones for affiliative leadership. Good communication and a high level of flexibility are common elements in organizations with strong affiliative leadership.

1. Strong people focus

People are the number one priority in affiliative leadership. Both the group, the individual, and the emotions of the individuals are valued. Strong emotional ties and loyalty between the team members can create opportunities for great performance. A more personal approach is also visible in how rewards and recognition are handed out. Affiliative leaders are much more likely to spend time with their employees to celebrate a job well done together. Such occasions can be team dinners, department luncheons, or similar. Either in groups or one on one. (Check out my democratic leadership course for loads of tips on techniques that is also applicable for affiliative leadership.)

2. A Strong Moral Compass

All leaders are expected to have strong moral values so that unethical behavior is discouraged. However, morals and values form the central focus of the affiliative leader. They aren’t a secondary thought once the company’s objectives have been met. Instead, affiliative leaders model moral behavior and expect those they work with to do the same. (Refer to Ethical Leadership for inspiration.) This heavy focus on morality also helps them exhibit empathy towards their teams. Empathy is often lacking in other leadership styles.

Additionally, an affiliative leader is ok with displaying his or her own emotions to a higher extent. After all, the trusting climate and the harmony allow for sharing without judgment to a high degree, and the high focus on morals and values brings a lot of authenticity to the table, allowing for emotional sharing as well. (This is all about Emotional Intelligence: get a free copy of our E-book here: Emotional Intelligence E-book.)

3. Good Communication

Affiliative leaders use positive communication to improve team morale and increase the chances of success. This doesn’t mean that the leader is a push-over. Instead, the affiliative leader can effectively encourage an employee to rethink his or her behavior through positive communication.
Communication is generally strong in teams or organizations marinated in an affiliative leadership style. Harmony and emotional bonds lead to lots of communication, which increases the spread of ideas and constructive discussion. This can be very beneficial to the organization. (If you need to improve on communication, read our article How to Improve Leadership Communication Skills.)

4. Flexibility

Thanks to the high level of trust and communication, affiliative leadership normally brings a large amount of flexibility to organizations as well. The climate and harmony require very little in terms of rules and a weaker system structure is enough. This flexibility also means that affiliative teams are more open to change and can handle changing circumstances better than many other teams.

What are the Pros and Cons of Affiliative Leadership?

Like all leadership styles, the affiliative leadership style also comes with pros and cons. Simply being aware of them makes it easier for you to play on the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses of affiliative leadership. Detailed explanations are available after these overview infographics.

Affiliative Leadership Advantages and Disadvantages Infographics. Feel free to use the image as long as you link back to this page.

Advantages of Affiliative Leadership

The advantages are, as expected, centering on people and their wellbeing.

1. Positively communicated feedback helps boost staff morale.

Affiliative leaders don’t dwell on the shortcomings of a team. Instead, they offer positive, yet constructive, feedback to their direct reports. They also recognize team members for the contributions they make to the team, no matter how small. 

2. Interpersonal conflict is swiftly addressed

Affiliative leaders try very hard to create a harmonious work environment. Therefore, they tend to have a knack for quickly spotting conflict and doing whatever they can to resolve it peacefully. These leaders don’t wait until conflicts become big issues that threaten the team’s success. Instead, they find unique solutions to these emotional conflicts so that productivity can increase.

3. Employees feel like the leader cares about their wellbeing

An employee’s well-being is what matters most to an affiliative leader. Need some time to attend your child’s sports event? No problem! Want to be rewarded for effectively completing your routine tasks? The affiliative leader will make that happen. It’s all about making the team feel appreciated and paying attention to their holistic needs.

The positive environment that this creates increases worker productivity. The Harvard Business Review agrees. In an article titled “Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive” authors Emma Seppälä and Kim Cameron state that “employees prefer workplace wellbeing to material benefits”. In contrast, organizations with minimal or no focus on employee wellbeing experience reduced productivity in the long-term, higher healthcare expenditure, and low employee engagement. If you want to create a positive environment, using the affiliative leadership style will set you on the right path.

4. Employees experience less stress and higher autonomy

The caring environment where everybody’s emotions are accounted for normally results in less stress. The high emotional focus means people will not be pushed as hard, it is as simple as that. Having a trusting and accepting team also means it is easier to ask for help or assistance in times of high pressure, avoiding stress-related problems in the end.
Affiliative leaders do allow employees to work autonomously, although this leader is not as laid-back as a laissez-faire leader. (Learn about laissez-faire and 25+ other ways of leading in our portal: Leadership Styles.) Affiliative leaders aren’t overbearing and overly demanding in how they lead. Employees who value working independently would be grateful for affiliative leadership.

5. Quicker emotional recovery from difficult incidents

A business crisis can take an emotional toll on employees. The encouraging presence of an affiliative leader helps the team better handle the crisis emotionally. Since the team is more able to handle the emotional implications of the incident, they are better able to get back to normal operations quickly so that productivity isn’t severely hampered. This also applies to incidents and problems in the personal lives of the team members since an affiliative team is way more supportive in general than many other types of teams. I have seen this happen numerous times in my career.

6. Teams are tightly-knit

Affiliative leaders do well at building a sense of camaraderie and collaboration. Everyone feels valued and is, therefore, more likely to feel empowered to help the team work together cohesively. An affiliative leader’s team is almost like family. Loyalty and trust are very strong in these teams.

Disadvantages of Affiliative Leadership

The weaknesses of affiliative leadership are concentrated on low performance, losing sight of the organization’s purpose, and conflict resolution. Minding the well-being of the employees can come with a price.

1. Underperformance tends to be overlooked

The spirit of camaraderie and positive feedback can work against an affiliative leader. Employees should feel good and always experience positive energy in the workplace. Therefore, an affiliative leader will avoid creating his or her own conflict with employees by overlooking their underperformance.

Instead, the aim is to find the root cause of the underperformance and correct it on an emotional level. This strategy may not work well in all situations, especially when there are strict deadlines that must be met.

2. Overlooked underperformance leads to a negative chain reaction

Employees carefully observe a leader’s actions. If a leader begins to ignore underperformance, the rest of the team may believe that mediocre performance is acceptable. Why put in the greater effort? Therefore, productivity decreases despite the highly positive work environment the affiliative leader has worked so hard to create.

3. Avoiding constructive criticism leads to unresolved problems

Positive criticism is great. However, there are times when employees need constructive feedback to help them perform more effectively. An affiliative leader won’t give this type of feedback unless it’s possible to put a positive spin on it. This has the potential to create complex challenges for the organization in the long term. 

4. The organization’s overall goal may be lost

Affiliative leaders focus primarily on building harmonious relationships within the organization. Such a narrow-minded focus inevitably means that the overall needs and goals of the organization are pushed aside. Therefore, affiliative leaders need to be conscious of this and strike a delicate balance between a harmonious workplace and ensuring that organizational goals are met.

5. The leader avoids uncomfortable situations

Affiliative leaders like to feel happy and positive each day they come to work. Any negative energy that threatens this happy place is avoided. Therefore, the leader may try to delegate responsibility, wait for a difficult situation or conflict to disappear, or delay responding for as long as possible before acting. This type of behavior isn’t in the organization’s best interest.

6. Employees develop an unrealistic emotional dependence on the leader

Employees begin to depend on the affiliative leader to resolve all interpersonal matters. Therefore, they don’t develop their own sense of emotional intelligence and fortitude. If the leader leaves the organization, things start to fall apart because of this unrealistic emotional dependence. (Get a free copy of our E-book “7 Tips on How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence” by clicking here: Emotional Intelligence E-book.)

How Can You Be an Effective Affiliative Leader?

Each leadership style has its place. Especially for the six leadership styles by Daniel Goleman – the whole concept builds on switching styles depending on the circumstances and not let a single style be overly dominant and overshadowing the others. The best leaders know how or focus on learning how to change their leadership styles to suit the present needs of the organization and the people involved in each leadership situation. (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.) Most people believe that the affiliative leadership style is best used when there is high stress in an organization or building a new team is required, but it has a place in team building at all team maturity levels. The big difference is how much of it you use versus other styles. (In need of team-building? Check out our article on Leadership Activities and Games.) 

Here are some tips for effectively using the Affiliative leadership style and reducing any of its side effects. Do note that some of these are typical behaviors of other leadership styles, which underlines our previous point of switching styles as appropriate.

Give constructive criticism

It is possible to give positive feedback without ignoring an employee’s shortcomings. How feedback is given matters. It’s important to acknowledge when an employee is underperforming and provide the constructive feedback necessary to get him or her back on track.

Encourage all employees to deal with conflicts in a good way

Conflict resolution shouldn’t rest solely on the affiliative leader’s shoulders. All team members need to be part of resolving conflicts and develop good conflict resolution skills so that the affiliative leader doesn’t have to spend an unreasonable amount of time putting out emotional fires. If all team members try to deal with their conflicts on their own and rarely seek intervention from the leader, the organization will function more efficiently.

Confront all challenges despite how difficult they may seem

All leaders are confronted with difficult challenges. Don’t push the challenges you’re faced with aside. Stay on top of internal and external issues that affect the organization even if they make you uncomfortable. It’s better to confront situations when they arise rather than allow them to fester and grow over time.

Track employee performance and execute appropriate interventions

An underperforming employee shouldn’t be allowed to slip through the cracks. However, you’re not trying to hover over your employees and dictate their every move. A strategy that you can use is monthly performance evaluations to determine whether employees are effectively meeting their targets and providing high-quality outputs. Those who aren’t should either be provided with mentorship or the tools and resources they need to improve. They shouldn’t be left to flounder like a fish out of water.

How to get more affiliative with your team?

Here are a few rather easy and simple things that you can do to improve on your affiliative skills and get closer to your team members. Refer to Affiliative Leadership examples in the workplace for inspiration.

1. Remember birthdays

Put all their birthdays in your calendar and when a birthday is up, call them and wish them a happy birthday. This will make people feel that you care about them for sure.

2. Ask people how they are doing

And really, really make sure you are listening to the answer. If something big is going on, remember to follow up and ask them again about the same situation the next time you talk or as appropriate.

3. Start some team meetings by asking people what is new in their life

This does not take long at all. It relaxes the mood before the meeting and it shares the information with the entire team, giving them the opportunity to grow closer together as well.

4. Ask about their families

You can even make notes. It is allowed you know! If you have trouble remembering how many kids people have, then write it down. Bring it up later as in “How is your son and daughter doing?” showing that you recall and know about the kids. Making notes does not make you inauthentic. It simply helps your memory and doing the above will result in you remembering it all by heart after some time. 

5. Watch the body language of your team members

If you see that people tense up or look beaten down, ask them how they are doing? If you have poor group dynamics as in my example above, the body language will tell for sure. By watching people and their changes in posture and facial expressions, you can spot conflict brewing beneath the surface as well as understand the general mood of people. Following up on someone that is sad with a quick question in a break can mean a lot to them – they will feel seen and that someone cares, which you in fact do, right?

Perhaps the most important thing is to see Affiliative Leadership as one tool out of the set of six leadership styles in your toolbox. Read our article about the entire Goleman Leadership Styles concept and avoid using only Affiliative Leadership. This article also explains the four aspects of Emotional Intelligence and how to build resonant leadership by using the six styles. Emotional Intelligence is especially crucial for affiliative leadership. (Get a free copy of our E-book “7 Tips on How to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence” by clicking here: Emotional Intelligence E-book.)

A leader’s practical experience of Affiliative Leadership

I haven’t met that many affiliative leaders during my career for some reason. The ones I have met, have often been involved in a sales capacity for some reason. This chapter will expand on a few examples of others showing affiliative leadership as well as some occasions I have done this myself.

The affiliative sales leader

I was once working with a Sales VP who had astonishing affiliative capabilities. It felt like he knew everybody. He would immediately remember the names of your family members and other personal items you mentioned in a conversation with him. He was a true people person and got substantial loyalty from his team members as a result. A truly amazing skill set which I am far from learning, even though I try. He used affiliative leadership with the customers as well! (Refer to our article on Affiliative leadership examples in business.)

Being an affiliative leader

During my years as a business leader, I have sometimes gotten very close to some team members when they have experienced challenges in their personal lives. This includes the loss of a close family member, divorces, and other major personal problems. By supporting these people in their time of difficulty, topics that aren’t normally discussed are brought up. If both parties are comfortable with opening up a bit, it can result in opportunities for people to bond. When I have gotten the chance to be there for a close colleague or a team member, it has normally made us grow closer and the loyalty between us has been cemented long-term.

The inauthentic affiliative leader

This leader is struggling to get closer to the team members and is deliberately working on the affiliative side of leadership. The problem comes when it turns out to be pretended care and affiliation to the people in the team. This will only seem inauthentic and weird, and the leader risks seeming even colder when caught in this type of behavior.
If you need to warm up to your people, then work on it in a deeper and more profound way. Think of them as people, how you care about them and how you really want them the best. Positive reinforcement and intrapersonal communication can be helpful here. Avoid asking how people are doing to fill a check box and then quickly moving on and hardly listening to the answer. People will see through you in a heartbeat.

The opposite of an affiliative team

I have experienced a team with such a toxic culture that speaking your mind could be taken as a declaration of war by some of the others. There were sub-cliques forming alliances, people disrespected each other openly, and snubbed relevant questions off with sarcasm. This team was led by a highly skilled leader, but sadly, for some reason, he failed to see these negative and destructive group dynamics. The team had performance issues, partially due to this situation, and people gradually left the team one by one, either willingly or unwillingly. After a while, the atmosphere shifted, but then more than half of the old team and the leader were gone.

I use the affiliative leadership style together with the others in the Goleman Six leadership styles. It has helped me tremendously in tying closer ties with my team and get a better team climate. This has also lead to improved results over the years. Check out our related articles for more examples right here: Affiliative Leadership examples in the workplace and Affiliative Leadership examples in business.

Background of Affiliative Leadership

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines affiliative as “relating to the formation of social and emotional bonds with others or to the desire to create such bonds.”, which is exactly what affiliative leadership is all about. Daniel Goleman is credited with conceptualizing affiliative leadership in 2002.  Affiliative Leadership was presented as one of the Six Leadership Styles by Goleman.

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 on an emotional level. Furthermore, when shaping a new team from scratch, affiliative leadership is extra beneficial since it creates trust and a sense of belonging that can weld the team members together in a good way.  (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.)

Famous Examples of Affiliative Leadership?

It is quite difficult to find any other examples mentioned online besides Joe Torre. On the other hand, that example is very easy to find. We have dug up two more famous examples for you.

Joe Torre – Former Head of the New York Yankees – 1940 to present

Joe Torre’s affiliative leadership style was particularly evident during the 1999 World Series. The players were under a lot of pressure because of the pennant race. He ably addressed their emotional turmoil. He also deliberately especially praised Scott Brosius whose father had died during the season. This helped Scott remain committed to the game although he was mourning his father’s death.

Dalai Lama (Lhamo Thondup)  (1935- present) – Spiritual Leader of Tibet

The Dalai Lama, who is also pointed out as an example of servant leadership is regarded as an affiliative leader. After all, this revered spiritual leader is set on a path of peace and happiness together with his followers. (Find info on servant leadership here: leadership styles.)

Warren Buffet (1930 – present) – CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

The famous finance guru Warren Buffet is known for hiring talented financial professionals who can creatively apply his principles to produce returns for their clients. Mr. Buffet doesn’t need to be involved in the day-to-day operations and he trusts his team. The strong focus on the team makes Mr. Buffet an affiliative leader as we see it. Warren Buffet is also considered an example of a Laissez-Faire leader. (Go to our leadership styles portal for info on Laissez-Faire.)

Which are the Goleman leadership styles?

The complete set of leadership styles as presented by Daniel Goleman is:

  • Coercive or Directive leadership style
  • Authoritative or Visionary leadership style
  • Affiliative leadership style
  • Democratic or Participative leadership style
  • Pacesetting leadership style
  • Coaching leadership style

The idea is to use all these different styles appropriately and under the right circumstances, including the situation and the people involved. By changing styles in a flexible and fluid way, the leader manages to create an overall productive climate in the organization. Each of the styles is summarized in short below. We have in-depth articles on each of them, so feel free to use the links below to jump to the appropriate section. You should also read our main article on the Goleman Leadership Styles since it explains the basics of the framework, including Emotional Intelligence and Resonant Leadership. All styles are briefly explained below, so please continue reading after this overview image. (Join our newsletter and get some of my secret tips for each of the Goleman leadership styles.)

Feel free to use the image, as long as you link back to this page.

1.   Coercive or Directive Leadership Style

Known as either directive, coercive or commanding leadership, this style involves the leader taking all decisions and ordering the team around with close follow-up. Thanks to the high clarity on expectations, rules, and roles, directive leadership can be very effective in teams of lower skill, especially where decisions often need to be taken fast. Directive leadership can lead to micromanagement and a drop in employee engagement. This drawback is extra damaging in teams with high skill.

Read more about directive leadership in our feature article: commanding/directive leadership.

2.   Authoritative or Visionary Leadership Style

The visionary style builds on a greater understanding of the overall picture and the future of an organization. Visionary leadership means building a long-term vision of the future together with the team members. Once finalized, the visionary leader communicates and sells the vision to the entire organization gets the collective moving in that direction.

Read more about this style if you are interested: visionary leadership.

3.   Affiliative Leadership Style

Hopefully, you know all you need to know about the Affiliative leadership style since you read this far. If not, then please see above, this is the topic of this whole article after all.

4.   Democratic leadership style

Democratic leadership focuses on empowering team members to participate in the decision-making of the organization. Although aiming for consensus, the democratic leader still makes the decision or approves the decision of the team in the end. This leadership is known to be very effective, but it is sometimes too time-consuming when quick and decisive action is required. I packed loads of secret sauce and experience from my job as a CEO into this course for you: democratic leadership course.

The above is a brief description taken from our article on Democratic Leadership.

5.   Pacesetting leadership style

A pacesetting leader leads by example and shows how things should be done. There is an enormous focus on speed, performance, and delivery in pacesetting leadership and it can achieve great results in a short time. Too much of this can get stressful and lower employee engagement and well-being. Use this style in times of urgency when an additional push for performance is required.

You can read more about Pacesetting Leadership in a separate article.

6.   Coaching leadership style

In coaching leadership, the leader coaches people to develop into better individuals over time. It is time-consuming to use real coaching leadership and it is a difficult style to master since it puts a lot of requirements on the skills of the leader.

This text is a short summary of our article about coaching leadership.

Now read the entire article on the six leadership styles by Daniel Goleman.

Further Reading

Do visit our portal containing situational leadership model, transformational, servant, transactional leadership, and more than 25 other leadership styles here: Leadership Styles. I also suggest you check out my democratic leadership course.

Specifically, on affiliative leadership, I recommend our articles on different examples: Affiliative leadership examples in the workplace and Affiliative leadership examples in business.

You can get our free e-book on leadership styles right here: Leadership styles e-book.



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