I find the six leadership styles based on Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman the most useful set of leadership styles out there. I have successfully used this framework for years, and it has helped me develop the leadership methods and skills I use today in my job as a CEO for a global company.
By reading this article, you will get a basic understanding and overview of the six leadership styles by Daniel Goleman (these styles were presented in the bestseller Primal Leadership (Amazon)). If you really embrace this framework and learn how to use it, I am sure it will take your leadership capabilities to the next level. It sure did for me, and it is one of the reasons for my career success. You will understand how to implement the six leadership styles by Goleman into your leadership, and my advice on how to best use it. You can also read a few stories from my career, which provide a greater understanding of the six leadership styles by Daniel Goleman. You can also watch our video on Youtube covering the entire topic: Six Leadership Styles video. The article continues below if you prefer reading.
Let us start with a few overall questions and answers.
What are the six leadership styles by Goleman?
The Goleman Six leadership Styles are:
- Commanding leadership style
- Visionary leadership style
- Democratic leadership style
- Coaching leadership style
- Affiliative leadership style
- Pacesetting leadership style
Which of the Goleman leadership styles should be used?
All of the Goleman leadership styles should be used to some extent. They should be used in different proportions and depending on the circumstances, the situation, and the people involved. As a general rule, pacesetting and commanding leadership should be used sparingly, whereas the other four styles, visionary, democratic, affiliative, and coaching should be used regularly and in larger proportions.
After these two outline questions and answers, let us get introduced to the framework itself. You can find more information about the origins and background of the six leadership styles based on emotional intelligence closer to the end of this chapter. I assume that most of you want to understand the tool itself and its use, rather than the theoretical background. (To read about other leadership styles and frameworks, you can read our main article here: More than a dozen leadership styles and frameworks.)
Six Leadership Styles based on Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is the basis of the entire framework, together with the concept of resonant leadership. To understand the six leadership styles and how to use them, you must take in the profound meaning of emotional intelligence and resonant leadership. So, let us start at that end.
According to this entire framework, emotional intelligence is one of the first and single most important parts of leadership. To lead, you as a leader must understand the emotional sides of different aspects as well as the emotions of the people you lead. For the team to believe you, understand you, and be willing to follow you, there needs to be some basic rapport and emotional understanding.
Emotional Intelligence truly deserves a whole separate article. Since the six leadership styles based on Emotional Intelligence are the focus of this article, we will merely scratch the surface enough to put the leadership styles in context.
Let me give you an example from my career. Many years ago, I worked with an overly optimistic leader. Now, being optimistic is generally a good thing, so I did use the term “overly” for a reason. This leader was optimistic pretty much regardless of the setting. Imagine when this leader came in with a smile and said, “All right, team! What a great day! Let’s take a look at that list of people we need to fire to cut costs!” The team did not respond well. Everybody felt terrible and had been worrying about this moment. When someone aired an opposite emotion and stated how serious the situation is, the leader responded with something like, “It simply needs to get done. Let’s not get depressed about it!” in a cheerful tone. This reaction did not help get the task completed, and some people felt less respect for this leader after this interaction. Learn more about EI in Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence (Amazon), it was a groundbreaking best seller within this field.
Keep on reading or watch our Youtube video on Emotional Intelligence:
What are the four areas of competency in Emotional Intelligence?
The four competencies of Emotional Intelligence are Self-awareness, Self-management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management.
You need to understand your own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, values, and drivers. Accurate self-awareness means setting clear goals that are in sync with core values. Self-reflection is an important part, and a self-aware leader will consider what they need to improve, realize when they are making mistakes, and have a limited need for prestige. Self-awareness also means that you understand how your behavior is perceived and what emotions you signal.
Self-management is about emotional self-control while also being honest and open with your own emotions. It is not about never being worried or angry. It is about knowing when to be worried or angry. A leader with good self-control does not have sudden aggressive outbursts. If he or she gets angry, it will be in a controlled fashion, for good reasons, and at the right place at the right time. Self-management is also about adapting emotionally to change and having the capability of pushing yourself to your targets, i.e., an internal drive for success. A good leader will be positive and optimistic as a primary stance but will adapt emotionally when this basic stance is no longer suitable. Being positive all the time, regardless of what happens, will seem inauthentic to others after a while. Understanding and controlling your own emotions requires quite a bit of work inside your mind. I suggest you read our article on that topic: Intrapersonal Communication. Here is a great book tip on understanding your own mind and how it affects your actions: Positive Intelligence (Amazon).
Empathy is a major cornerstone of Social Awareness. Through empathy, you will understand how others feel, how they perceive things, and how things impact them. Social awareness also means understanding social settings such as networks and hierarchies, formal and informal, in the world surrounding you. As part of understanding these social settings, you will also understand what your stakeholders need and expect from you. Ranging from your boss to your customers, team members, etc. you need to gauge their needs and expectations.
The fourth of the Emotional Intelligence competencies involves influencing and developing others, bonding, handling conflicts, and many other interactions between people and teams. You need to be able to figure out how to get others to move in the desired direction. How to inspire people and how to get them to cooperate towards the same goal, for instance.
As you can probably tell, these four competencies connect and depend on each other. If you lack self-awareness, how will you be able to be genuinely empathetic? After all, you will not understand how your behavior impacts others. Furthermore, relationship management will be challenging if you lack self-management, etc.
All these competencies of Emotional Intelligence come together, and they need to be balanced. Develop your own Emotional Intelligence with purpose and proper goals.
Let us go back to my example of the overly optimistic leader above. In that case, the leader did not have enough social awareness to understand how concerned the team was. Furthermore, poor relationship management meant the leader did not understand how closely connected some of the managers in this team were with the people about to be fired. The leader lacked self-awareness with failure in understanding just how much optimism was signaled. Finally, there was a lack of self-management as this leader probably should have entered with a more serious mood to such a tough meeting topic. To this day, I do not think the leader understood what happened in that room. I know how I reacted, and I could tell and was also told, that some of the other team members responded the same. That said, no one is perfect, and this leader was great in many ways. We all make mistakes. Mastering the art of Emotional Intelligence means you will make fewer mistakes, perhaps very, very few mistakes. That is what we should aim to reach.
In Primal Leadership, Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee describe and define the concept of Resonant Leadership. Primal Leadership is a fantastic leadership book, by the way, and I strongly suggest you get a copy of it immediately. You can check it out here at Amazon: Primal Leadership.
Resonant Leadership can be explained by using a description of a resonant leader from the book Primal Leadership:
“He was attuned to people’s feelings and moved them in a positive emotional direction.. ..and resonating with the emotions of those around him.. ..leaving people feeling uplifted and inspired..” (My edit, I have quoted only parts of a longer paragraph where some extra strong points are made.)
Given this, the leader in the previous example was creating the opposite of resonance, which is dissonance. Despite that, this leader was one of the most resonant leaders I have ever known. The weak moment described exemplifies dissonance, but this was a very infrequent behavior for this person.
What is resonant leadership?
Resonant leadership is the ability of a leader to create a positive emotional impact using Emotional Intelligence. Resonant leadership imprints positive and energetic emotions and puts people in emotional synch. Successful implementation of resonant leadership in a team results in emotional comfort, cooperation, idea sharing, and strong emotional bonds that help the team through difficult times.
There are several chapters about this in the book Primal Leadership (Amazon), and I have used that information for the above definition of resonant leadership.
Here is our video on Resonant Leadership. The article continues below the video if you prefer reading.
An unpleasant feeling, the lack of rapport, worry, and even fear can result from the opposite, i.e. dissonant leadership. This could result in people not speaking their opinions due to fear of tantrums or repercussions from the leader or other members. Team members do not entirely trust their leader or each other. They are concerned with politics to protect themselves, and risk-taking is the last on their minds. You have probably all seen signs of a leader causing dissonance. The Discordant Leader, as Goleman calls it, is very much out of synch. The discordant leader would laugh at the wrong things, shut down discussions when the team feels they are getting to the crucial parts, put a low priority on explaining underlying reasons to the team, and fail to care about their emotional state.
I once worked for a very discordant leader. This man could erupt in complete anger if things did not go his way. He deployed shoot the messenger tactics where the same idea could be great from one team member but a despicable invention if suggested by another. People were afraid of him. He himself seemed to think he was a great leader with few flaws, though. He once tried to find out who had put in negative comments about him in an employee engagement survey so that he would know who to punish or even fire. At the same time, he could tell us that “I`m always here for you if you need support. You can come to me with any concern, and I will help you.” Telling him about a problem, risk or concern is the absolutely last thing anyone would want to do. I dare to say that this leader showed pretty much a complete breakdown in all the areas of Emotional Intelligence described above. Not just in a few situations, but repeatedly. I strongly recommend you read the book Verbal Judo (Amazon) which is great for understanding communication between people, especially when it comes to the more difficult conversations.
Resonant Leadership through the Six Leadership Styles
Goleman divides the six leadership styles based on emotional intelligence into two different categories:
These leadership styles are briefly introduced below and described in detail in their own in-depth articles at Leadershipahoy.com. At this point, we are approaching some very concrete tools for you to deploy in your leadership.
How do you implement resonant leadership?
You can implement resonant leadership by creating emotional resonance in a team. This is achieved using Emotional Intelligence and the Six Leadership styles, namely the Democratic, Coaching, Visionary, Affiliative, Participative, and Commanding leadership styles.
To conclude our progress this far. You should always strive to improve your Emotional Intelligence. Enhancing this is easier for some than for others, but we can all improve and get better at this. As a leader, you should use your Emotional Intelligence to create resonance with and within your team. Using the four resonant leadership styles will help you achieve this. If you do succeed, you will see a high-performing team and better results in the end. I have seen it happen with my own eyes.
The Six Leadership Styles
It is time to introduce you to the Six Leadership Styles based on Emotional Intelligence. (If you prefer video, check out our youtube video on the topic: Six Leadership Styles video.
Daniel Goleman’s 2000 article in the Harvard Business review described these six leadership styles and underlined that using each style is a strategic choice. Instead of finding one style that fits you or matches your behavior or personality, you should try to use the optimum leadership style for each situation. Strategic choice would mean to purposely select which style to use and not be reactive to situations spontaneously and emotionally, which leads us back to the concept of Emotional Intelligence above. Use the four competencies of Emotional Intelligence to determine which style should be used, how you can use it, and then execute. It is worth repeating that all these styles should be used on different occasions and to different degrees. As Daniel Goleman puts it himself: “The best leaders don’t know just one style of leadership – they’re skilled at several, and have the flexibility to switch between styles as the circumstances dictate.” I can happily say that I have been able to master five of these six styles over the years. This achievement took a lot of time and a lot of development. At this point in my career, I can easily say that it was all worth it since these five styles are now some of the most critical tools in my toolbox as a CEO of a global company.
For the third time, the whole concept builds on using as many of these leadership styles as possible, depending on the circumstances such as the situation, the people involved, the topic at hand, and other factors. This cannot be stressed enough as you will set yourself up to fail if you focus on using one single style at all times. That would be a behavioral approach to leadership and that is unfit for the modern leader.
Each of the leadership styles and how they contribute to resonance is explained further below after the overview picture.
1. The Commanding Leadership Style
This style is also known as coercive or directive leadership style. Here’s our video on the Commanding style, the article continues further below if you prefer reading.
In commanding leadership, the leader makes all the decisions and gives orders to his or her team without explanations. Close and tight control and follow-up combined with high clarity in rules, roles, and expectations are core parts of the commanding leadership style. Commanding leadership can in fact be efficient, but with few exceptions only in low-skilled teams, and when decisions must be made very quickly. Commanding leadership can easily lead to micromanagement, which is negative for employee engagement, especially in teams with high skills in complex environments.
This style drives resonance since it can reduce fears and panic in critical situations through high clarity and high execution speed. Outside of these situations, it quickly leads to dissonance with people feeling overrun, disrespected, treated like machines, victimized, and generally unhappy and unmotivated. According to research by Daniel Goleman, Commanding leadership has a negative correlation with team climate and is especially detrimental to concepts of flexibility and responsibility in the team.
One of the biggest problems with the commanding leadership style is that it is the image of how a boss should be according to lots of people. It is the “Now that I`m finally the boss, I`m going to set people straight around here and make them work hard!” mentality that borders on dictatorship or autocratic leadership. If you use this style all the time, I will say you are using the behavioral leadership style called autocratic leadership. Autocratic leadership is known for low productivity, low engagement, fear, and high turnover. Read more about Commanding leadership, so you completely understand the ins and outs of it. The first reason is so that you understand how and when to use it. The second reason is for you to be able to recognize when other people use commanding leadership – that way you can understand whether you need to act and how to act to counter it and its detrimental effects. Read more in our article available here: Commanding/Directive Leadership.
I have personally used this style very rarely, and it is the only one of the six leadership styles that I use infrequently. I have used it in the early stages of turnaround situations, and I have used it when employees have been severely out of line once or twice. The last time I led a low-skilled team was about twenty years ago, and the mechanics of low-skill work sometimes give less need for democracy, transparency, cooperation, etc. Still, I don`t recall being directive in that situation either. I always have and always will see it as a last resort.
2. The Visionary Leadership Style
The Visionary leadership style is sometimes also referred to as the authoritative leadership style. Here is our in-depth video on the visionary style. The article continues below the video image in case you prefer reading instead.
A visionary leader truly understands the big picture and sets a long-term path for the organization. When applying a visionary leadership style, the long-term vision is also properly communicated and explained to the organization’s members. A great visionary leader manages to communicate and market the vision so that members of the organization feel inspired and understand how they will benefit from its realization. Achieving this is often much more difficult than it sounds, especially if there are many layers in the organization where the vision can be misconstrued, diluted, or misunderstood while cascaded downwards. Visionary leadership is also about reaching that vision, so it has a portion of execution and getting things done within it. Implementing visionary leadership in a genuinely great way requires quite a bit of Emotional Intelligence on the leaders’ part. This style more than others requires powerful communication skills.
The Visionary leadership style drives resonance by bringing people together and working cooperatively towards the same end goal. Research shows a strong correlation with flexibility, clarity, commitment, rewards, and pretty much all aspects of a team climate.
Although this is a genuinely good leadership style, it still shouldn`t be overused. Too much of this can result in inattention to shorter-term activities and operational topics. In turn, that could hurt the organization and prevent the team from fulfilling the vision anyway. Learn about the pros and cons, how this style works, and how to become effective at visionary leadership in our in-depth article on Visionary Leadership.
I regularly use the visionary leadership style in my job. It can range from providing strategic vision to painting a picture on shorter-term items. Visionary leadership is not only about the long-term goal, but it can also be about painting the vision of what to avoid. If a customer service department keeps messing up, they might need a vision of what would happen if all customers left due to dissatisfaction. What would that mean, and why is it important to avoid? I try to paint some sort of vision for most of the bigger things we do in my team. What are we trying to achieve by opening a new office? A place to be or a way of expanding, providing better service, and creating closer relationships between our team members and our customers and suppliers? A rhetorical question, but I am sure you get my point. (Read Good to Great (Amazon) for some great advice on setting a vision and overperforming.)
3. The Affiliative Leadership Style
Affiliative leadership focuses more on relationships and people. While focusing on keeping all team members happy, the affiliative leader builds strong relationships and bonds with the team members and between them. The affiliative leadership style leads to trust and harmony in the team, taking teamwork to the next level. There are a lot of feedback, recognition, and rewards in this leadership style, which helps build team spirit and cohesion. Like the other styles, overusing affiliative leadership can have terrible effects. Too much of this, and you will seize being a leader and manager and instead become best buddies with your direct reports. Gone too far, affiliative leadership can lead to fear of conflicts and lack of accountability and productivity since team harmony and being friends has gotten too much priority.
Here is our video on Affiliative Leadership. The article continues below.
The affiliative leadership style contributes to resonant leadership by bringing people closer together and creating a harmonious working environment with a lot of trust and emotional support. Goleman has found a positive correlation between affiliative leadership and clarity, rewards, standards, and other conceptual areas of a team`s climate. As with the visionary style, no negative correlation to team climate has been found. (Consider the book O Great One! A little story about the awesome power of recognition (Amazon) to learn more about ways of rewarding people.)
To learn the strengths and weaknesses and how to develop the affiliative leader within you, check out our extensive article here: Affiliative Leadership.
Affiliative leadership requires empathy and Emotional Intelligence in general, of course. If you push this style too hard without being genuine and authentic, i.e., doing it for show, people might distrust you and become uncomfortable around you since you might come off as being fake.
I use the affiliative leadership style to create the right level of family feeling within the team. Given how much time we spend together, it`s essential that we get to know each other and respect each other as human beings. Personal relationships become extra crucial if someone in the team is having a personal problem such as a sick child, or in tough times when we need to calm each other due to worries and uncertainties of the future.
4. The Democratic Leadership Style
The Democratic leadership style is part of several other leadership styles frameworks such as the Kurt Lewin Leadership styles. It is also a style of many names, as I have seen it referred to as participative style, cooperative style, and several other names.
Democratic leadership is when an empowered team takes full part in the decision-making process. Any team member can bring forward ideas and suggestions, and there is a strive for consensus in decision making. In the end, the democratic leader approves or makes the decision. Democratic leadership is an effective leadership style but can sometimes be too slow when fast decisions are needed. Use it at the right time and to the proper extent, and it can prompt astounding creativity and idea generation. It can build sizeable commitment and bring people together as a team with significant reductions in blame games and politics as a result.
Feel free to watch our video on democratic leadership below. The article continues just below the video if reading is your preference.
The democratic leadership style creates resonance by valuing input from everyone. This degree of participation most often leads to high commitment and engagement within the team. The research by Goleman et al. shows a positive correlation between democratic leadership and all aspects of team climate.
One more reminder, all styles should be used, not just one. This statement applies to Democratic Leadership as well, and I strongly urge you to learn about this style’s advantages and disadvantages. For that and tips on becoming a good democratic leader, I suggest you read our in-depth article that you can find here: Democratic Leadership.
You might also want to read the book Turn the Ship Around! which follows the journey of a submarine captain as he starts involving his crew more in decision-making and driving change. It’s a great read, especially since it is a true story!
5. Pacesetting leadership style
The pacesetting leader has a complete focus on performance and results. This leader expects nothing but excellence from team members and employees. Please note that the pacesetting leader expects the same, or even more, from him or herself and leads by example. Hence, it is more of a “follow me – let’s overachieve” rather than bullying others to work harder. All others are expected to work as hard and be as productive as the pacesetting leader.
Keep reading or watch our youtube video on pacesetting leadership right here:
The pacesetting leadership style is excellent for short spurts when results are all that matter, but it can be exhausting for everybody in the long run and lead to demotivation and burnout within the team. Long-term pace setting can be devastating for morale and lead to high-stress levels and high turnover rates – people feel like they are asked to perform beyond what is possible. (Check out the book Measure What Matters (Amazon) for some great tips on setting goals and meeting them. This is very useful for a pacesetting leader.)
Pacesetting leadership contributes to the team’s resonance by meeting challenges and goals together, giving the sense of accomplishment and feeling capable. If this is your only style or you simply use it too much, it will quickly start to erode resonance and build dissonance instead. As with the commanding style, research shows a negative correlation with most aspects of team climate.
Despite the risk, the style can be excellent if used appropriately. Do not write this one off. Instead, make sure you learn more about how and when to use it. Like with the other dissonant style, commanding leadership, it is also useful to understand the style so you can recognize it among other leaders and colleagues. You can find all the background information, the pros and cons, what to do, and what not to do in our article on this style: pacesetting leadership.
6. Coaching leadership style
Coaching Leadership is when the leader coaches team members to develop themselves in the long term to become better individuals and professionals. Using this leadership style, you can create a very high commitment, engagement, and loyalty in your team. Developing the team members will eventually nurture them to become coaching leaders themselves. That next generation of coaches can continue to coach others, leading to even better improvement in performance in the long run. Coaching leadership is time-consuming and requires a lot of skill on the part of the leader. It will only work if the individual receiving coaching is motivated and open to feedback. Forcing this style on someone who thinks they have nothing to learn from being coached by you might have negative effects.
According to Goleman, coaching leadership builds resonance by creating strong connections between the organization’s goals and any personal goals. Just as with affiliative, democratic, visionary, i.e., the other three styles of building resonance, coaching leadership positively correlates with all aspects of a team`s climate.
If you prefer a video, you can watch our in-depth Coaching Leadership video right here. If not, then keep scrolling, the text continues just below.
I try to use coaching leadership as much as I can, but just the other styles, you need to use a mix and not just one style. It cannot all be about all team members’ long-term development since some focus needs to remain on short-term and operational issues. I do some coaching with as many as possible and then deeper coaching with regular coaching sessions with a few selected individuals. This means very strong focus, ensuring some people’s development rather than minor levels of coaching of everyone. The people being coached like this can of course change over time, which can be incorporated into the long-term coaching plan. I.e. the one no longer coached can have a development plan for what to achieve until the tight coaching starts again in 6 or 12 months.
Check out the book The Coaching Habit (Amazon) if you want to get better at coaching. Read more about coaching leadership so you understand how this can help you as a leader. Learn about the pros, the cons, how to do it, and many other things in our article on coaching leadership.
Summary on the Six Leadership Styles by Daniel Goleman
By now, you should have a clear picture of the importance of Emotional Intelligence in building resonant leadership. You currently have an overview understanding of the six leadership styles by Daniel Goleman and have read some of my examples and how I use these styles. Do not stop here. Get the book Primal Leadership (Amazon) to learn more or read all our articles on these six leadership styles. Once you learn more, you increase your chances to master these styles and take your leadership to an entirely new level. I will share more of my story and how I managed to reach quite extraordinary results in my job as a CEO for a global company by implementing this leadership styles framework. As far as I`m concerned, this is the only framework you will need to become a great leader. If you want to check out our youtube video, you can find it here: Leadership styles video.
Further reading at leadershipahoy.com:
- Leadership Styles and Frameworks: read about more than ten other leadership styles and frameworks
- Affiliative Leadership
- Coaching Leadership
- Commanding/Directive Leadership
- Pacesetting Leadership
- Democratic/Participative Leadership
- Visionary Leadership
- Mentioned as a behavior style to avoid: Autocratic Leadership Style
- Intrapersonal Communication
For information on my recommended books, courses and equipment, please refer to these pages within this site:
Primal Leadership (Amazon), by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee
Please also refer to all sources listed on each of the leadership style pages, i.e., visionary, affiliative, directive, democratic, coaching, and pacesetting articles, see links above under further reading.
Examples of references listed in the deep dive articles that have had impact on this article as well.