What is the “right” Emotional Style for a Leader?

Guess what…it depends on the situation. So not so easy, right?

In fact, choosing the most adequate emotional style and constantly adapting it in an effective manner to each different context is something most managers (and people in general) find quite a challenge. Just imagine the amount of variables to consider at work, at any given moment: different people, different moods, different stress levels, change happening always more frequently…

And since evidence shows that a leader’s emotional state and style can resonate throughout an organization, affecting its culture and productivity, it is a very big responsibility to take these decisions.

So what can you do?

You need to develop self-awareness and gain some tools, to start with. A possibility is using the six “emotional leadership styles” toolbox, developed by Emotional Intelligence “guru” Daniel Goleman et all. And understanding how each style has a different effect on people’s emotions, and each has strengths and weaknesses in different circumstances.

NB: You should not 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.

The 6 Styles in a nutshell

  1. The Visionary Leader: Visionary leaders are inspiring and empathetic. They set a vision and encourage their team members to be autonomous, proactive and have a problem-solving attitutide. 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.
  2. The Coaching Leader: The Coaching leadership style connects people’s personal goals and values with the organization’s goals. This style is empathic and encouraging. This style has a positive impact. It establishes rapport  and trust , and increases motivation. It works very well with team members who are interested in moving forward and/or improving their work style, tools, goals. But it has limited effect with employees who are not ready to make an effort.
  3. The Affiliative Leader: This leadership style promotes harmony within the team, and emphasizes emotional connections. It connects people by encouraging inclusion and resolving conflict. It is key when there are trust-related challenges and/or tensions, for example.
  4. The Democratic Leader: This leadership style focuses on collaboration. Managers actively seek input from their collaborators, listen and build consensus. This style should not be used with employees 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.
  5. The Pacesetting Leader: This style focuses on performance and achieving goals. Pacesetting leaders expect excellence from their team members, and they will often be “hands-on” to make sure that objectives are met.

Everyone is held to a high standard, so poor performers will not feel they have a place. This can be a successful style in special situations that require a quick response. However, it can not be used on a daily basis, as it will have a negative effect on your team (burnout, stress, staff turnover).

6. The Commanding Leader: this is the autocratic approach – orders, (often unspoken) threat of disciplinary action, and tight control. This style should only be used when absolutely essential, like in times of great crisis.

Final tips:

Tip 1: Be aware that 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.

Tip 2: Learning how to “read” a situation and the emotions, profiles and needs of the people involved will help you to select the appropriate leadership style. Our Emotional Intelligence trainings can help you developing the necessary skills both to read these everyday workplace situations, and to adequately choose the style and use it effectively.

Tip 3: Recall these Six Emotional Leadership are just one of the multiple approaches to thinking about your leadership style. At REDCSOPE we use many others, regularly adapted and enriched by the latest research.


Get in touch if you wish suggestions for additional readings or more information about our leadership trainings.