Goleman’s Leadership Styles Explained!

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When it comes to one of the best approaches to use when managing people, Daniel Goleman leadership styles is a go to theory for many.

Regardless of the size of their team or the industry in which they work, every leader has one thing in common: They want to maximise results and see their team succeed.

The more you know about your leadership style, the easier it is to communicate effectively with your team and help them improve their performance.

Not sure how to describe your preferred method?

According to psychologist and author Daniel Goleman, most leaders’ approach falls into one of six categories. Everything you need to know about Goleman’s leadership styles is explained below.


Who is Daniel Goleman?

Daniel Goleman is a California native (born in 1946) and a graduate of Harvard University.

Throughout his career, Goleman has studied subjects like emotional intelligence and social learning in-depth, and his findings have been published in prestigious publications like The New York Times and Psychology Today. He’s also published three books on leadership, employee training, and human resources:

In all these books, Goleman argues that effective leadership and business success require more than a high IQ or advanced aptitude for logic and rationale. Emotional intelligence also matters. It plays a critical role in helping leaders interact appropriately with their team members and build strong relationships.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

The term emotional intelligence describes a person’s ability to perceive, interpret, and evaluate others’ emotions. Emotionally intelligent people can also demonstrate a wide range of emotions and regulate their feelings to match the situation.

The following are four of the most critical elements of emotional intelligence:

Perceiving Emotions

An emotionally intelligent person can pick up on changes in people’s emotions and label them accurately. They know when someone is happy, sad, disappointed, angry, etc. based on factors like tone, body language, and facial expressions.

Reasoning with Emotions

Emotionally intelligent leaders can also reason with emotions and use them to prioritise effectively. For example, if a leader notices that an employee is frustrated, they may decide that coaching that employee is a top priority and that working with someone else can wait until later.

Understanding Emotions

Perceiving emotions is the first part of emotional intelligence. Truly emotionally intelligent people can also take things a step further, though, and get to the bottom of what’s causing the emotion.

For instance, say a leader sees that an employee is frustrated or angry. If they’re emotionally intelligent, they should be willing and able to interpret the cause of those emotions rather than making assumptions or snap judgments. This in turn will lead to managing any conflict more effectively or avoiding it in the first place.

Regulating Emotions

Finally, emotional intelligence involves emotional regulation. An emotionally intelligent person is not ruled by their or others’ emotions. They know how to regulate their feelings and respond appropriately based on the situation and the needs of their team.

Please take our FREE EQ Test that will break down your current levels of emotional intelligence and will provide you with a personalised report and tips to help.

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Six Types of Goleman Leadership Styles

According to Goleman’s model of situational leadership, there are six different leadership styles based on various types of emotional intelligence. Each of the six styles is explained in detail below:

The Commanding Leadership Style

Commanding leadership is also known as coercive or directive leadership. It involves the leader making all the decisions for their team.

Commanding leaders give orders without explanation and follow up often to ensure the job is being done correctly. They also set clear roles and expectations and carefully define the roles each team member must carry out.

Pros and Cons of Commanding Leadership

Commanding leadership is generally the most efficient leadership style. It works well for inexperienced teams who need a lot of guidance. It’s also effective in high-pressure situations where decisions must be made quickly.

Despite these pros, commanding leadership also comes with certain downsides. For example, it can easily lead to micromanagement, which harms employee engagement and morale. It can also cause employees to feel dehumanised and seen as machines rather than intelligent and creative individuals.

Characteristics of a Commanding Leader

Commanding leaders typically exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Demands total obedience from employees
  • Exercise full control over all aspects of their job
  • Focus more on missteps than accomplishments
  • Offer limited praise to employees
  • Rarely if ever delegate authority
  • Can be intimidating or highly demanding
  • Can be critical or forceful
  • Make decisions quickly

Authoritative Leadership Style

Authoritative leadership is also known as visionary leadership. This style involves leaders who have a detailed understanding of the big picture and can set a long-term path for their team to follow.

Authoritative leaders do an excellent job of communicating their long-term vision, breaking it down into manageable steps, and gaining buy-in from team members. They promote their vision in a way that inspires their employees and encourages them to make meaningful contributions.

Pros and Cons of Authoritative Leadership

Visionary or authoritative leaders are often inspiring to their team members. They get those they manage excited about accomplishing tasks and helping the company get closer to achieving a major goal. They can boost motivation and create a more engaging company culture.

A potential downside to visionary leadership is that it requires clear communication and the ability to set smaller goals. If an authoritative leader sets lofty goals but doesn’t clarify the steps needed to achieve them, employees may end up feeling frustrated or confused.

Characteristics of an Authoritative Leader

Authoritative or visionary leaders typically exhibit these traits:

  • Think “big”
  • Create clear visions
  • Set common goals
  • Give team members room to experiment and take risks
  • Allow team members to speak their minds
  • Encourage transparency
  • Set clear standards
  • Create reward and recognition systems
  • Share knowledge openly
  • Consistently remind people of the big picture

Affiliative Leadership Style

Affiliative leadership focuses on relationships. Affiliative leaders work hard to build strong relationships with all team members and ensure they’re happy and satisfied with their jobs. They also encourage team members to build relationships with each other, resulting in a more harmonious and trusting company culture.

The affiliative leadership style is characterised by ongoing feedback, regular recognition, and frequent rewards. When used appropriately, this approach can help to boost team spirit and create a more cohesive environment.

Pros and Cons of Affiliative Leadership

One of the greatest benefits of affiliative leadership is that it brings people closer together. It fosters teamwork and provides employees with ongoing support — which helps them achieve goals and improve their performance.

Affiliative leadership is often great for workplace morale and may increase employee loyalty. If someone feels that they have a positive relationship with their manager or co-workers, they’ll be more inclined to stick with the company long-term.

A potential con of affiliative leadership is that it can lead to blurred lines between leaders and their people. If leaders try too hard to always be friends with their employees, they may be hesitant to offer constructive criticism or address problems. They may become conflict-averse or fail to hold people accountable for their mistakes.

Characteristics of an Affiliative Leader

An affiliative leader may possess the following traits:

  • Strive to create strong bonds
  • See people, not just employees
  • Focus on needs and feelings
  • Make time for deep conversations
  • Offer frequent praise
  • Encourage risk-taking
  • Aim to create resonance and harmony
  • Don’t set strict rules
  • Give employees plenty of freedom
  • Offer positive feedback often
  • Work to build a sense of belonging
  • Offer recognition and don’t take credit for others’ work

Democratic Leadership Style

Democratic leadership invites all team members to participate in the decision-making process.

Democratic leaders empower their team members to make decisions and offer suggestions. They strive to reach a consensus when making decisions.

These leaders ultimately have final approval. However, they work hard to ensure everyone feels heard and is on board before making a particular choice.

Pros and Cons of Democratic Leadership

Democratic leadership can be beneficial because it empowers employees.

Democratic leaders let team members know that their opinions and ideas matter. They also encourage team members to contribute, share their insights, and participate when making decisions that will affect them.

The democratic leadership style naturally lends itself to more employee engagement and increase motivation. It can boost morale and improve the company culture.

One of the biggest drawbacks to democratic leadership is that it can be less efficient than other types.

When leaders wait for everyone to share input before deciding, it takes longer to reach a final conclusion. In high-pressure situations, this isn’t always the best approach.

Characteristics of a Democratic Leader

A democratic leader may exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Listen to others’ opinions and concerns
  • Don’t criticise employees or their ideas
  • Don’t punish others for telling the truth
  • Take the time to understand other viewpoints
  • Encourage others to be involved in the decision-making process
  • Let people set their own goals
  • Value commitment, trust, and respect
  • Manage conflict effectively
  • Are team players

Pacesetting Leadership Style

The pacesetting leadership style places a strong emphasis on performance and achieving specific results.

Pacesetting leaders have high expectations for their team members and themselves. They aren’t interested in bossing people around or bullying them into working harder. Instead, they lead by example and encourage everyone to put their best foot forward.

Pros and Cons of Pacesetting Leadership

Pacesetting leadership works well in many situations because it encourages a high level of performance. It helps employees to set and achieve lofty goals, which boosts productivity and sets the company up for higher revenue and long-term results.

Pacesetting leadership is especially beneficial during short periods when employees must push themselves to achieve a goal by a particular deadline. Pacesetting leaders keep their teams focused and ensure they meet or exceed expectations.

On the flip side, pacesetting leaders can also create stressful work environments for some employees. If people feel that they’re being held to an impossible standard, their engagement may start to diminish. They may also start to feel frustrated and unappreciated.

Characteristics of a Pacesetting Leader

A pacesetting leader often engages in the following behaviours:

  • Strive for excellence in all they do
  • Focused solely on their goals
  • Are experts in their field
  • Set high standards
  • Exemplify those standards
  • Demand perfection
  • Quickly identify poor performers
  • May expect people to know what to do without setting clear guidelines
  • May give little-to-no praise
  • May struggle to delegate work
  • Focus on numbers and tangible outcomes

Coaching Leadership Style

Coaching leadership involves a leader who coaches and encourages employees to develop themselves and strive to become better professionals.

Coaching leaders set clear goals, exhibit a high level of commitment, and encourage loyalty from team members. They also nurture employees and encourage them to become coaches themselves, creating a supportive and uplifting environment for everyone involved.

Pros and Cons of Coaching Leadership

Coaching leadership is an excellent option for those who want to build strong relationships and contribute to a positive company culture. It also encourages employee engagement and boosts motivation, both of which can improve team productivity and help team members (and entire teams) achieve their goals.

One of the most noteworthy cons of coaching leadership is that it can be more time-consuming than other leadership styles. Coaches work with their employees to set goals, develop their skills, and make continuous progress.

This approach can’t be fast-tracked — at least if you want to see meaningful results. In high-pressure situations with tight deadlines, coaching leadership may not be the most effective or efficient option.

Characteristics of a Coaching Leader

Coaching leaders often possess these traits:

  • Value and strive to make deep emotional connections
  • Are curious and ask lots of questions
  • Are genuinely interested in others
  • Enjoy holding frequent meetings
  • Enjoy conducting personal conversations
  • Listen well
  • Help employees identify strengths and weaknesses
  • Help employees set and achieve goals
  • Delegate easily
  • Can tolerate short-term failures or setbacks
  • Believe in others’ potential

Please take our FREE Coaching Skills Assessment that evaluates your coaching skills. You’ll receive a personalised report on the findings and some tips and techniques to help you improve.

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Impacts of Daniel Goleman’s Leadership Styles Explained

An understanding of Goleman’s leadership styles — and the type of leadership you use most often — offers numerous benefits to managers or team leaders, employees, and the company as a whole.

Here are some of the most well-known benefits associated with this approach to leadership:

Increases Employee Satisfaction

If you’re an effective leader, your employees are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs. They’ll enjoy working with you and will be more motivated to achieve their goals.

Keep in mind, too, that good leadership allows for better relationships and increased trust between you and your team. More trust can improve communication and help employees feel safer giving and receiving feedback.

Improves Employee Retention Rates

When employees have strong relationships with their managers and are satisfied at work overall, they’re more likely to stick with their employer. They’ll feel a sense of loyalty to the company and will want to continue working with them long-term.

Improved employee retention rates help you save money by reducing the amount you spend on recruiting and training costs. They also improve your company’s reputation and contribute to a more positive company culture.

Enhances Employee Productivity

Happy employees are productive employees. When you identify the best way to lead your team and help them achieve their goals, you’ll find that it’s much easier to motivate them and keep them engaged.

Increased motivation and engagement naturally help team members get more done while also improving the quality of their work.

Boosts Company Revenue

In addition to increasing employee productivity, understanding your leadership style, and strengthening your leadership can also boost your company’s revenue. Productive, happy employees can help you improve your offerings, make more sales, and generate more income.

Remember that your business is nothing without your employees. The better you are at leading and directing them, the more motivated they’ll be to help your business succeed now and in the future.

What’s Your Leadership Style?

After reading through this guide, what do you think about your natural leadership style? Which of the six styles do you naturally gravitate toward?

Remember that you don’t have to commit to just one. Although you may have an inherent affinity for one of the six styles, it’s helpful if you can adjust and adopt different ones when the situation calls for it.

For example, say a deadline is quickly approaching, and your team lacks the skills to get the job done. In this case, commanding leadership might be needed.

However, when it comes to setting long-term goals and inspiring your team, visionary leadership can be more effective.

Flexibility and adaptability will help you be a more effective leader in all scenarios. They will also empower you to provide your employees with the support they need to succeed (and help your company succeed).

Here are some additional leadership models that we cover within our Management Training solutions:


Understanding and implementing Goleman’s leadership theory can help you identify your default leadership style, focus on your strengths, and become a more effective and emotionally intelligent manager.

Do you want to learn more about improving your leadership skills? If so, MTD Training offers various Team Leader Training, Supervisory Training Courses and Management Development Programmes. All these solutions will cover a wide variety of management and leadership models to help you become more effective in all that you do.

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training

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Updated on: 9 March, 2023

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