Browse By

Six Emotional Leadership Styles – Leadership Skills From

Six Emotional Leadership Styles

Choosing the Right Style for the Situation

Six Emotional Leadership Styles - Choosing the Right Style for the Situation

© Veer

Ignite team members’ passion by matching your leadership style to their emotions.

Think for a moment about the best boss that you ever had. What was it that made working with him or her so rewarding?

Maybe he was happy and excited about his work, and that made you feel happy and excited, too. He never got angry when problems came up, but instead focused on finding workable solutions. He was confident, but always ready to hear other people’s opinions. As a result, you enjoyed your job and consistently performed well.

Now think about the worst boss you ever had: the one who was ill-tempered, made unrealistic demands without telling you why, and was always “pulling rank.” Sure, you worked hard, but only because you were afraid not to. She got results in the short term, but her team members soon burned out and staff churn was high.

The contrast between the two examples of managers is stark. It is also significant. Scientific research shows that a leader’s emotional state can impact everyone in an organization. The leader’s mood can cause a chain reaction that affects not only morale but also productivity and the bottom line.

So, as a leader, developing a higher level of emotional intelligence (EI) – your ability to manage your own emotions and to read other people’s – is an important business skill.

There are six “emotional leadership styles” that are useful in different circumstances. In this article, we’ll explore each of them, and look at how you can develop the skills you need to use each one effectively. (Mind Tools Club members can also read examples of how each style works in practice.)

The Six Emotional Leadership Styles

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee identified six emotional leadership styles in their 2002 book, “Primal Leadership.” Each style has a different effect on people’s emotions, and each has strengths and weaknesses in different situations.

Four of these styles (Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, and Democratic) promote harmony and positive outcomes. However, the other two (Commanding and Pacesetting) may create tension and you should only use them in specific circumstances.

Goleman and his co-authors say that you shouldn’t use any one style all the time. Instead, use the six styles interchangeably – choose the one that best addresses the situation that you’re facing, the people concerned, and the emotions that they’re experiencing.


Learning how to “read” a situation and the feelings of the people involved will help you to select the appropriate leadership style. Our articles on listening skills and body language are a good starting point.

Now, let’s examine each style in more detail.

1. The Visionary Leader

The Visionary approach to leadership is summed up by the phrase, “Come with me.”

Visionary leaders are inspiring. They tell their teams where they’re heading, but don’t dictate how they’re going to get there – they encourage their team members to use their own initiative to solve a problem or to meet a target. Empathy is the most important aspect of Visionary leadership.

When to Use It

Visionary leadership is most effective when your organization needs a new vision or a dramatic new direction, or for helping your team to manage change. However, it’s less likely to be effective when you’re working with a team that’s more experienced than you are. In these cases, democratic leadership is more likely to be effective.

Visionary leadership can create the most positive results of all the six leadership styles, but it may also be overbearing if you use it too much.

To develop a Visionary leadership style focus on increasing your expertise, vision, self-confidence, and empathy. Get excited about change, and let your team see your enthusiasm – remember, it’s infectious!

You also need to convince others of your vision, so focus on improving your communication and presentation skills.

2. The Coaching Leader

The Coaching leader’s approach is, “Try this.”

The Coaching leadership style connects a team member’s personal goals and values
with the organization’s goals. This style is empathic and encouraging, and you can use it when you want to focus on developing people for future success.

This style centers on having in-depth conversations that may have little to do with people’s current work, instead focusing on long-term life plans and how these connect with the organization’s mission.

This style has a positive impact. It establishes rapport and trust
, and increases motivation.

When to Use It

Use the Coaching style when you have a team member who needs help building long-term skills, or if you feel that he is “adrift” in your organization and could benefit from a coaching or mentoring relationship.

However, coaching can fail when it’s used with an employee who is not making an effort, or who needs a lot of direction and feedback. In these cases, Pacesetting or Commanding leadership may be more effective.

How to Develop It

To develop a Coaching style, learn how to engage in informal coaching and mentoring.

It’s also important to get to know the people on your team. When you know your people, you’re better able to see when they need guidance or advice. Use Management by Wandering Around to keep in touch with their needs.

3. The Affiliative Leader

The Affiliative leader believes that, “People come first.”

The Affiliative leadership style promotes harmony within the team, and emphasizes emotional connections. It connects people by encouraging inclusion and resolving conflict. To use this style you need to value other’s emotions and have a strong awareness of their emotional needs.

When to Use It

Use this style whenever there is team tension or conflict, when trust has been broken, or if the team needs to be motivated through a stressful time.

How to Develop It

Leaders who use the Affiliative style are highly focused on emotion. So, learn how to resolve conflict and how to be optimistic. Our article on managing emotion in your team will also help.

4. The Democratic Leader

The Democratic Leader asks, “What do you think?”

The Democratic leadership style focuses on collaboration. Leaders using this leadership style actively seek input from their teams, and they rely more on listening than directing.

When to Use It

This style is best used when you need to get your team on board with an idea or build consensus. It’s also effective when you need your team’s input.

The Democratic leadership style shouldn’t be used with people who are inexperienced, lack competence, or aren’t well informed about a situation. It’s best to ask for input from team members who are motivated, knowledgeable and capable.

How to Develop It

To develop a Democratic leadership style, involve your team in problem solving and decision making, and teach them the skills that they need to do this. Also try to improve your active listening and facilitation skills.

5. The Pacesetting Leader

The Pacesetting leader says, “Do as I do, now.”

The Pacesetting leadership style focuses on performance and achieving goals. Pacesetting leaders expect excellence from their teams, and they will often jump in themselves to make sure that targets are met.

This style doesn’t “coddle” poor performers – everyone is held to a high standard.

While this can be a successful style, it can have a negative effect on the team, leading to burnout, exhaustion and high staff turnover.

When to Use It

Try the Pacesetting leadership style when you need to get high-quality results from a motivated team, quickly.

How to Develop It

Because the Pacesetting style focuses on high performance, learn how to improve the quality of your team’s work using techniques such as Six Sigma and Kaizen. Train your people well and engage in high-performance coaching to help them to become as effective as possible.

You may also want to work on your motivation skills, so that you can get the best from your people.

6. The Commanding Leader

The Commanding Leader demands, “Do what I tell you.”

Commanding leaders use an autocratic approach. This often depends on orders, the (often unspoken) threat of disciplinary action, and tight control.

So, it’s important to remember that people in democratic countries are used to having a high level of control over their lives and their work, and that this approach could deprives them of this. What’s more, because this leadership style is so often misused, it can have a profoundly negative effect on a team.

When to Use It

The Commanding leadership style is best used in crises to jump-start fast-paced change and with problem employees.

How to Develop It

Be cautious when setting out to develop a Commanding leadership style. Remember, this style is very easily misused, and it should only be used when absolutely necessary.

To work effectively in these high-pressure situations, learn how to manage a crisis, think on your feet, and make good decisions under pressure.

Terms reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review. From ‘Primal Leadership’ by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee. Copyright © 2013 by the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved.


The Six Emotional Leadership Styles provide just one approach to thinking about your leadership style. You can find out about many other approaches in our Leadership Styles article.

Key Points

Evidence shows that a leader’s emotional state can resonate throughout an organization, affecting its culture and productivity. Therefore emotional intelligence (EI) is a key leadership skill.

According to Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, there are six “emotional leadership” styles – Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Commanding. Each one has a different effect on the people who you’re leading.

Each style works best in different situations, resonating differently with your team, and producing different results.

Anyone can learn how to use these leadership styles. However, take care to choose the style that’s best suited to the needs of your team and the specific situation.

The Six Emotional Leadership Styles in Action

It’s not always easy to know which of the six emotional leadership styles you should adopt in any given situation. To help you to choose, consider how each style might work out in practice, in the following six scenarios.

 Access the Full Article

This article is only available in full within the Mind Tools Club.

Learn More and Join Today

Already a Club member? Log in to finish this article.

Show RatingsHide Ratings

Source: Six Emotional Leadership Styles – Leadership Skills From