ATD Blog

Transforming Leadership—Selecting a Style for Your Team

Friday, September 5, 2014

In my previous blog post, I outlined some of the challenges organizations face with the leadership talent shortage. Now, let’s take a look at leadership styles.

Indeed, when you search on the various leadership styles you end up with 25,200,000 hits. That tells me that there has been a lot of time spent researching the topic. A good place to start is Daniel Goleman’s 2000 study for the Hay/McBer Group, Leadership That Gets Results. This research, encompassing three years and 3,000 middle managers, identified six distinct styles.  

Pacesetting leader

A pacesetting leader likely will struggle in today’s engagement-focused environment. This fast-paced mover and shaker sets high performance standards and expects the same excellence from his staff. However, Goleman reports that he has trouble setting clear guidelines and giving feedback. Not surprisingly, motivating his staff is not a strong point. Another downside for these leaders is that they run risk of burn out. Pacesetting leaders shine in an organization of self-starters who simply require the vision to execute.

Authoritative leader

The authoritative leader is a visionary who can express to staff why their work is important to the organization’s success. The research shows that she defines clear standards, offers concrete feedback, and gives staff the flexibility to work toward goals in their own way. Employees with critical-thinking skills will flourish working for an authoritative leader. Authoritative leaders work well in organizations where employees are able to think outside the box and require minimal, if any, supervision.

Affiliative leader


The affiliative leader follows the motto: “people come first.” I thought this was great and aligned with my own beliefs. Unfortunately, it is typically too good to be true. The study found that while this sort of leader is a great communicator, shares ideas, and evokes loyalty from staff, the nurturing style can prove unproductive in today’s business world. Affiliative is good, but organizations need to develop leaders with the critical-thinking skills to lead their people into the future—rather than become dependent on them. Coaching and mentoring are critical to the development of leaders, but this particular style goes way beyond that.

Coaching leader

Coaching leaders are all about the development of their people. Goleman explains how this sort of leader uses coaching and mentoring to help employees identify strengths and outline development plans. An organization that has coaching leaders typically build a learning and development environment that will thrive and people will grow. Unfortunately, this type of style is used least often—leaders are simply too busy with other demands. I have found that this type of leadership style seems to only work well when employees are fully engaged.

Coercive leader


The coercive leader is what I call “old school”—he is all about compliance and doing what you are told. There is obviously a time and place for these types of leaders, however, I have seen them drive away good employees. According to Goleman, coercive leaders do not stimulate creative-thinking skills and their workers often fail to feel like “a part of the organization.” As a result, employees do not respond well to this style and they tend to move on to new opportunities.

Democratic leader

Leadership That Gets Results explains that a democratic leader relies on consensus and requires an engaged and empowered team to be truly successful. She allows employees to make decisions, thereby, building respect and commitment. The democratic leadership style appeals to Millennials who have stated that they wish to be “mentored” rather than “managed.” Sadly, this style is not that widely used—contributing to the high rate of disengagement.

To be sure, each situation an organization faces may require some elements of each leadership style. Knowing when to apply a specific style is the challenge.

My next post will delve into the transformational leader, and examine how it draws on some of the qualities of an effective mentor. I look forward to our next discussion.

About the Author

Doug Lawrence is the founder of TalentC, a human resources solution provider. He also is author of The Gift of Mentoring. Doug has more than 35 years of mentoring and leadership experience in both the federal and provincial environments as well as the private sector. He was instrumental in developing a curriculum to train people on how to become effective mentors. Doug has also created an International Certification for Mentors. The curriculum and the designation are accredited by a third party and are ISO compliant. TalentC is the only accredited training organization that can deliver the International Certification for Mentoring program. The curriculum has been pre-approved as a recertification credit provider with numerous organizations in Canada and the United States. Doug is a Certified Mentor Practitioner and a Certified Mentor Facilitator.

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