Pacesetting Leadership – What is it and how to do it

pace leadership
Have you ever wondered what pacesetting leadership is and what makes a pacesetting leader?

Being one of the six leadership styles proposed by Daniel Goleman, they can be characterised as being highly motivated and driven.
Let’s take a look at Pacesetting Leadership in more detail, as well as briefly touching on Goleman’s other five leadership styles.



What Is The Definition of Pacesetting Leadership?

Pacesetting leadership is one of six leadership styles first introduced by Daniel Goleman.

It can be described as a leader who sets and upholds high standards and expectations for their team. They set the pace, lead by example, and encourage team members to do as they do.

Pacesetting leaders typically prioritise a high level of performance, speed, and quality in their work. They expect other team members to match their efforts, too.

The pacesetting leadership style’s aim is to focus on results. The leader expects team members to abide by established guidelines and meet deadlines. To ensure team members can achieve these goals, leaders don’t ask employees to take on tasks they’re not equipped to handle.

We cover Goleman’s Six Leadership Styles In our Management Training along with other types of leadership trends and styles – all to improve the knowledge and skills of managers.



Examples Of Pacesetting Leadership

Leaders in numerous industries have used the pacesetting leadership style to connect with their teams and make great things happen.

If you’re looking for a pacesetting leadership example to inspire you, here are some noteworthy ones to keep in mind:

1. Military Leaders

Military leaders often exemplify the pacesetting leadership style.

In the military, all soldiers and personnel, regardless of rank, are expected to uphold the highest standards at all times. For example, leaders clearly set a goal and implement strict project completion schedules.

If those of lower ranks do not adhere to these schedules and achieve specific goals, they may be subject to scrutiny and criticism. However, their leader is also subject to the same consequences – the person who sits above them also has high standards and expects them to lead by example.

In the military, pacesetting leadership is also often used because personnel are expected to perform well without external motivation. In other words, they should do their job because they want to serve the organisation’s higher purpose.

2. Sales Team Leaders

Many sales team leaders rely on pacesetting leadership to help their team members meet quotas and grow their companies.

In the sales world, it’s common for leaders to expect employee motivation to be high and for them to consistently strive to perform better than they did the day before. Sales leaders typically expect ongoing growth and continuous KPI (key performance indicator) – and they exemplify these behaviours themselves.

3. Sports Team Managers

Coaches and sports team managers may also use a pacesetting leadership style to guide their teams to victory.

In many cases, coaches and team managers have been players themselves. Because they’re familiar with what it takes to be a great athlete, they’re able to lead by example and show team members how they want them to behave during training sessions and matches. This is something we

Sir Alex Ferguson, who led the Manchester United football team to 13 premier league titles during his 26-year tenure, often exemplified tenets of pacesetting leadership. He was well-known for his tireless dedication to the team, and he expected the players to emulate his work ethic.

4. Headteachers

In academic settings, headteachers also utilise a pacesetting leadership style.

Headteachers often have a clear set of objectives that they expect each teacher to meet. They also expect the teachers to follow in the headteacher’s footsteps and behave as they would if they were in the teachers’ shoes.

Headteachers often expect the teachers they oversee to be intrinsically motivated to perform to the best of their abilities without close supervision. They want teachers to strive to fulfill their responsibilities and serve their pupils each day.

Regardless of the industry, as a leader it is important to make sure you have the relevant leadership development training to be able to inspire your team and bring out the best in them at all times.

What Are the Essential Elements of Pacesetting Leadership?

Following the pacesetting leadership examples discussed above is an excellent starting point for someone who wants to become a better pacesetting leader. However, knowing what characteristics make up effective pacesetting leadership is also necessary.

Here are four of the most important ones to remember:

1. Self-Motivation

Pacesetting leaders are self-motivated. They have a deep desire to succeed, and they set high standards for themselves to achieve that success.

The motivation for pacesetting leaders comes from within — it is intrinsic. In other words, they’re not motivated by money, fame, or other external factors. They’re driven by something more profound than those other, more fleeting rewards.

2. Clearly Communicated Requirements

It’s important for a pacesetting leader to be able to communicate clearly so their requirements and expectations can be understood by their team members. They don’t expect employees to be mind readers, and they also do not micromanage every task the employee carries out.

A pacesetting leader establishes precise requirements and guidelines from the start. Then, they expect their employees to either ask questions if they don’t understand or execute their responsibilities according to the previously stated guidelines.

Take a look at these tips on interpersonal communication skills if you are looking to improve the way you interact with your team.

3. Initiative

A pacesetting leader takes the initiative. They don’t wait for someone else to ask them to do something. They know what needs to be done, and they do it.

Because pacesetting leaders don’t need to be asked to carry out duties, they expect their team members to follow suit. They want to see the same amount of initiative that they take in their day-to-day responsibilities.

4. Trend-Setting

Pacesetting leaders are trendsetters (not always in terms of fashion, although there are some very fashion-forward leaders out there, but in the way they do their jobs and guide their teams).

Those who practice pacesetting leadership don’t follow in others’ footsteps.

These leaders set the pace for the entire team and show them what they want to see. They also don’t have a lot of patience for those who can’t keep up with the trends — those who can’t get on the same page will be left behind.

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What Are the Advantages And Disadvantages Of Pacesetting Leadership?

Like every leadership style, there are pros and cons to pacesetting leadership. Below, you’ll learn some essential pacesetting leadership pros and cons.




Here are some of the most significant benefits you can enjoy when you practice pacesetting leadership appropriately:

Establish Goals Clearly

It’s typically easy for pacesetting leaders to understand what they (and their employees) need to accomplish. This understanding helps the leader to set clear goals and establish specific expectations for their employees to meet.

Achieve Goals Quickly

Because pacesetting leaders are good at setting clear goals and explaining what they want their employees to do, it’s often easy for their teams to achieve goals and make progress quickly. In situations when time is of the essence, this advantage is especially noteworthy.

Highlight Team Members’ Competencies

Influential pacesetting leaders know how to delegate tasks in a way that highlights each team member’s strengths and skills. They give employees opportunities to shine and do what they’re naturally good at, which helps them to achieve goals faster and move the team in the right direction.

Identify Issues That Need Improvement

Pacesetting leadership easily shines a light on aspects of the team that need improvement — such as employees who aren’t up to par with the rest of their team members or processes that need to be adjusted.

Address Issues Promptly

Ideally, when weaknesses are identified, it’s also easier for leaders and team members to create a plan to resolve the problem as soon as possible. Of course, this doesn’t always happen, but generally, it’s easier to fix a problem promptly rather than waiting for it to escalate into something more serious.

Give Teams Freedom to Perform

The best pacesetting leaders do not micromanage their teams. They explain what they need and, ideally, are clear enough with their explanation that employees can perform and execute tasks without excessive guidance and oversight.

This approach to leadership gives team members the freedom to perform without a boss breathing down their necks.

Respect Employees’ Unique Skills

When pacesetting leadership is practiced appropriately, the leader shows great respect for each team member’s unique skills. They acknowledge that everyone has different strengths, and they assign tasks in a way that highlights those strengths and allows everyone to perform to the best of their abilities.

Improve Teams Rapidly

Because pacesetting leadership identifies issues and addresses them right away, it’s easier for teams to continuously grow and improve. Whether it’s a sales team or a football team, the members will make ongoing progress and outshine their competitors.




The following are some of the most significant disadvantages you and your team might experience if you practice a pacesetting leadership style:

Employees May Feel Stressed or Unmotivated

In some scenarios, pacesetting leadership can cause employees to feel extra stressed. When a leader has very high expectations, team members may experience anxiety as they try to keep up with their demands.

Pacesetting leadership also operates under the idea that everyone is intrinsically motivated. That’s not always the case, though. Some people go through periods where they’re less motivated, but pacesetting leaders don’t always make allowances for those individuals.

Employees May Not Feel Trusted

Pacesetting leaders set the standard for the rest of the team to meet.

This approach can cause some employees to feel that their leader doesn’t trust them to make good decisions or think for themselves. As a result, they may not feel respected or feel that their unique skills are appreciated.

Work Can Become Repetitive

In a workplace guided by a pacesetting leader, it’s easy for work to become repetitive. Pacesetting leaders often prioritise results above all else, meaning there’s less room for breaking from the routine and doing other things that are seen as less productive.

Engagement Rates May Drop

After a while, doing the same tasks over and over can cause employees to check out and become less engaged in their jobs. They may go on autopilot and start doing what they know gets results, even if they’re not exceptionally dedicated to or don’t believe in it.

Employee Loyalty May Decline

A lack of engagement among team members can also contribute to a decrease in employee loyalty.

When employees feel that their primary purpose is to achieve results and complete the tasks their leader asks them to handle, they might not feel particularly appreciated. This lack of appreciation can also cause the employees to feel less loyal to their leader and the company as a whole.

Employees May Not Get Sufficient Feedback

Some pacesetting leaders are good at telling people what to do but not good at telling them when they’ve done something well or when they need to make changes. When employees don’t get sufficient feedback, this issue can also impact their engagement.

Employees May Become Burnt Out

Problems with employee engagement and loyalty, coupled with repetitive work and increased stress, are a recipe for burnout. In some cases, leaders who practice the pacesetting approach can contribute to employee burnout and harm their mental health.

Employees May Be Less Innovative

When a leader is dedicated to results above all else, there’s often less room for innovation among their team members. Because everyone is focused on being as productive as possible, they don’t have time to think outside the box and develop more creative solutions.


How to be a Pacesetting Leader

Now that you’re better versed in the pacesetting leadership definition, let’s discuss when this style is, and isn’t, the best approach.

When is Pacesetting Leadership effective?

The following are some situations in which pacesetting leadership makes sense:

Urgency Is High

When there’s a powerful sense of urgency among the team, and you know that you need to get something done as quickly as possible, pacesetting leadership can be beneficial. It shows employees what they need to do and gives them the freedom to get it done right away.

Delivery Is More Important Than Usual

In situations where particular results are expected, pacesetting leadership can also help. It prioritises productivity and allows everyone to work together to deliver on time.

Morale Is Diminished

If a team hasn’t had success in a while, the pacesetting leadership style can help to break them out of that funk. When they have clear expectations and a self-motivated leader to follow, they may feel more engaged and recommitted to their jobs.

When should Pacesetting Leadership be avoided?

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, the pacesetting leadership style might not be the most effective approach:

Employees Lack Necessary Skills

Pacesetting leadership places a lot of trust in employees and gives them the freedom to carry out responsibilities. If employees don’t have the skills necessary to carry out these tasks, the pacesetting approach might not work.

Employees Need Ongoing Monitoring

Similarly, if employees are new to the company or still learning the ins and outs of their job, pacesetting leadership typically doesn’t work. These employees need more oversight than a pacesetter leader can comfortably provide.

Employees Are Showing Signs of Burnout

If employees are already showing signs of burnout — reduced productivity, reduced work quality, more frequent sick days, irritability or hostility — pacesetting leadership may push them over the edge and do more harm than good. A different, more collaborative approach would likely be a better fit in these cases.

type of leaderships

Types Of Other Leadership Styles By Goleman

The following are the other five leadership styles Goleman describes in his work:

1. Commanding Leadership Style

The commanding leadership style is also known as a coercive leadership style. Those who practice this approach often rely on orders, threats (spoken or unspoken) of punishment, and a strict sense of control.

2. Authoritative Leadership Style

The authoritative or visionary leadership style is used by leaders who strive to inspire. These leaders help team members to work toward a common goal. They tell the team where they want to end up, but don’t they don’t prescribe a specific path to get there — it’s up to the team to decide how they’ll achieve their goal.

3. Affiliative Leadership Style

Affiliative leaders value harmony among their teams. They bring people together and encourage inclusion and conflict resolution. They also value others’ emotions and strive to meet their emotional needs.

4. Democratic leadership style

Those who practice a democratic leadership style value collaboration. They regularly and actively seek input from team members and listen more than they direct.

5. Coaching leadership style

The coaching leadership style links team members’ personal goals with the organisation’s goals. Coaching leaders are empathic, encouraging, and committed to helping others develop their skills.


Pacesetting leaders hold themselves and their team members to high standards, and they work with them to achieve excellence.

When it’s practiced correctly, this is one of the most valuable approaches managers and team leaders can take to guide employees and help them accomplish their goals – something we touch on in our Team Leader Training Courses.

Do you want to learn more about becoming a better pacesetting leader? If so, we offer several training courses to help you develop the tools, skills and behaviours to lead more effectively. Take a look at our in-house Supervisory Training Courses or Management Development Programmes today.

Thanks again


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training

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Updated on: 1 June, 2023

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