Leadership Styles: Goleman's Six Emotional Styles of Leadership

Leadership is not a "one size fits all" concept.  Therefore, adaptability is a key characteristic of being an effective leader.  A leader will face many challenges, interactions, and situations that require different methods to move forward.  A leader must be able to adapt his/her leadership style to address the specifics of the situation and the people involved.  Unfortunately, for some leaders this is not always an easy task, especially for those with a low level of emotional intelligence.  To refresh, emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions and the emotions of others (see posts 2 through four).

Thus, the more attuned you are to your emotions and the emotions of others, the more effective you will become at adapting your style to the situation.  While there are many frameworks for This post will discuss the six emotional leadership styles presented by Daniel Goleman in his book "Primal Leadership":

  • Visionary

  • Coaching

  • Pacesetting

  • Democratic

  • Affiliative

  • Commanding (2002).


The goal of a visionary leader is to move his/her team toward a shared vision, focus on the end goals, but leave how to get there up to the individual team members.  This style works best when the organization needs a change of direction, a clearer direction, or an extreme change.  A visionary leader will need to rely on his/her communication skills, commitment, self-confidence, and empathy, ability to bring people together, and the willingness to allow team members to exercise creativity and provide solutions. This style promotes innovation, creativity, commitment, and motivation.


The coaching style of leadership focuses on helping team members improve their performance and tie their personal goals to organizational goals.  Further, the coaching style helps a team member in identifying their strengths, areas of possible improvement, promotes long-term personal growth, and positively impacts performance and attitude. To be an effective coach, a leader must rely on his/her active listening skills, social skills, empathy, and self-awareness.


A leader practicing the pace-setting leadership style has a high drive to achieve, sets high standards, lacks empathy, is impatient, numbers-driven, expects, and is prone to micro-managing.  This style can lead to team members to feeling overwhelmed, negatively impacts morale, and hinders creativity and innovation.  Goleman asserts this style should be used sparingly, but works best with a motivated and skilled team (2002).


Collaboration and participation are key to the democratic leadership style.  This is a style of leadership in which decision-making is shared, group views are valued and contribute to the organization's vision and goals.  Democratic leadership promotes participation, consensus, encourages creativity, goals, a shared vision, and strengthens team member commitment.   A leader must rely on his/her listening, communication, motivational, and collaborative skills when practicing this style of leadership.


Also known as the putting people first style of leadership, this style emphasizes teamwork, increases morale, connects people, and focuses on the emotional needs rather than the work needs of followers.  This style is valuable when a leader needs to repair trust, improve communication, and increase employee morale.  An affiliative leader is skilled at building positive relationships, resolving conflicts, has a high level of self-awareness, displays empathy, is a skilled listener and communicator, and shows concern for and values his/her team members.


Often referred to as the military style of leadership, commanding is the most often used, but is the least effective of the six styles.  A commanding leader is controlling, can be perceived as threatening, micro-manages, critical, and demanding.  Goleman asserts this style can be effective during a crisis or when an immediate change is needed.  This style decreases employee morale, job satisfaction, promotes negativity, and decreases retention.

The most effective leader can combine leadership styles or move from one style to another based on the situation and the people involved.  They are skilled at building positive relationships which promote trust and motivate employees.  Each of us are born with a unique personality that influences our leadership style.  To determine your leadership style, you need to consider your personality traits, specifically your actions, behaviors, and attitudes.  Additionally, you must determine the core values you that guide your decision-making process.  Identify your strengths and weaknesses by examining past experiences.  The journal created in our examination of emotional intelligence (in post 3) will supply this information.  In addition, you should consider gathering feedback from colleagues, friends, and family members.  Compare what you learn from your self-examination with the leadership styles listed to determine the style that you closely align with.  Ask yourself, what do I need to improve or where am I lacking?  This information will guide you to complete an individual development plan that will be discussed in the next post.

Thank you for reading!  I look forward to your questions and comments.



Goleman, D., Bayatzis, R., & McKee, A.(2002). Primal leadership: Realizing the power  of 

     emotional intelligence. New York: Harvard Business Review



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