How to Understand Your Leadership Style: An Overview of the 6 Goleman Leadership Styles

Understanding the ideal leadership style for the given situation is critical to being a great leader


Malhar Lakshman , Sun 20 November 2022
All successful managers have some form of personality trait or talent that predisposes them for leadership. Some of them may have attained this skillset through years of education and training, while others may have been naturally gifted with this, but at the end of the day, one factor holds true. These talents can be categorized into a Goleman Style

            Daniel Goleman is an American author, psychologist, and journalist, best known for writing a book in 1995 called Emotional Intelligence.  Some of the topics in this book aren’t necessarily ones that pertain to managers, but they can still get value out of reading it. However, the main point of interest from this work is that of the descriptions of Leadership styles, more commonly known as the Goleman Styles. 

            Each Goleman Style has both good values and bad values associated with them, and Dr. Goleman has recommended that the most effective leaders make use of all six of these styles. The styles are as follows:

1.     Commanding Leadership
2.     Visionary Leadership
3.     Democratic Leadership
4.     Coaching Leadership
5.     Affiliative Leadership
6.     Pacesetting Leadership

Overviews of the Goleman Styles

Each of the Goleman Styles has been studied by psychologists and business leaders to determine their flaws and benefits. For more information about the stories, I recommend reading the book Emotional Intelligence. While some of the concepts in this book may not hold true today as a result of further research, the leadership styles are still known to be true. 

1)     Commanding Leadership can also be known as Authoritarianism or Directive Leadership and is most often viewed as a negative method of leadership. In this style, the leader is responsible for making all the business process decisions. Leaders must exert tight control over their workplace and workforce and have a very clear goal in mind with what to work with. This is especially effective within workforces where employees are low-skilled or inexperienced, as well as in situations in which a leader might be called upon to make quick decisions. Commanding Leadership can also ruin direct-report engagement, since no one other than a leader will generally have any input on decision-making. Therefore, it is often passed up on in favor of different styles. 
2)     Visionary Leadership is largely dependent on a leader having a final goal in mind. This leader can then go on to inspire their direct reports and harness their participation and goal setting to accomplish this goal. Examples of these leaders include Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. While this form of leadership can completely allow for a corporate overhaul, it has a major flaw in terms of short-term problems. An example of this can be seen in Gandhi’s journey to free India from British Imperialism. While he was able to accomplish his goal in 1947, his marches were often divisive, prioritizing men over women, and Hindus over Muslims, along with upholding the Caste System, which are all problems that plague India to this day.
3)     Democratic Leadership completely enables all members of a team to participate in the decision-making progress. Any member can come in with an idea and can determine whether or not the idea is worth going forth with by using a consensus amongst other members, along with a final ruling by a leader. Democratic Leadership is particularly useful at getting team member involvement and retaining staff, but has a flaw in its speed, often taking time to come up with decisions. This can be dangerous when quick decisions are required to be made. 
4)     Coaching Leadership is all about Service Leadership. In this rarer form of leadership, a leader’s primary responsibility and first priority is to coach team members to develop and improve over time. This can dramatically assist in retention and engagement and creates a more skilled workforce. However, coaching can often prove to be very difficult, and does not provide an immediate result. This form of leadership is highly synergistic with AIM Insights and the AIM Insights People Leader Certification.
5)     Affiliative Leadership solely targets the feelings of direct reports. The main goal of this is to make everyone “feel good.” This is especially useful in situations where a pool of individuals are in disagreement. HR professionals are often highly adept at Affiliative Leadership and patching relationships between people. This relies on having a strong moral compass and a strong desire to avoid tension. One fatal flaw with this form of leadership is that these leaders are often avoidant of conflict and have trouble making difficult decisions that may cause someone to suffer. In business, there are sometimes difficult conversations that are well-needed, such as talking to underperforming employees. Affiliative Leaders may not necessarily be the best at addressing this.
6)     Pacesetting Leaders are similar to Commanding Leaders in which they are both the primary driver of the workforce. The concept of the Pacesetting Leader is similar to that of a Pacesetter in a marathon. These individuals serve as an example and the epitome of the statement “do as I do.” Pacesetting leaders are often highly motivated, are good at clearly communicating tasks, and are talented at setting trends. These leaders have expectations of their subordinates and know exactly how much work they can do without failure. This style of leadership can also stress direct reports and does not allow for much feedback or engagement. Therefore, it has another similarity with Commanding Leadership in that it is poorly regarded by direct reports.

Understanding what situation to exercise each type of leadership is a benchmark of a talented leader. While Commanding and Pacesetting Leaderships aren’t to be used at all times, they have certain benefits in certain scenarios. The individual fallings and strengths in each style can allow for a balanced leadership style, and overall make a better leadership experience as well. Goleman Styles aren’t a panacea by any means, but they can come together to truly make a leader. 


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