Bring Goleman’s leadership styles to life with MTa experiential activities

Part of our series on bringing theories to life with experiential learning. Read the rest here.

Daniel Goleman derived his six leadership styles from quantitative research into which leadership behaviours achieve positive, tangible results.

An integral part of his theory is that leadership style is a strategic choice rather than a function of personality, and that people can learn new styles to become more effective leaders as a result.

In this blog post we will:

  • Introduce Goleman and explore the six leadership styles he identified
  • Review the pros, cons, and potential applications of each style
  • Give actionable advice on how each leadership style can be developed
  • Spotlight experiential learning activities that facilitators can use to make this development possible

Who is Daniel Goleman?

Daniel Goleman is a psychologist and science journalist most famous for his writings about emotional intelligence and leadership. He has a Ph.D. from Harvard University and contributed for a long time to The New York Times.

His leadership theories continue to challenge the enduring idea that some people are born with a natural tendency for leadership, instead suggesting that leadership styles can be learned and used deliberately, and that anyone can learn to lead as a result.

Goleman’s six leadership styles were proposed in an article for the Harvard Business Review in 2000, and have remained popular since their introduction. Taken together, his theories encourage leaders to do three things:

  1. Reflect on their default leadership style(s)
  2. Improve their ability to evaluate which style(s) best suit a situation
  3. Develop their ability to use other leadership styles as the situation demands – sometimes multiple times per week

Used correctly, Goleman’s theories can equip leaders with a powerful toolbox of leadership styles from which they can select the one(s) that will yield the optimal outcome in a given situation.

Goleman’s six leadership styles

The six leadership styles Goleman proposes are Coercive, Authoritative, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting and Coaching. 

Each style has different qualities that make them appropriate for different situations, and each has a different likelihood of positively or negatively impacting organisational climate. The research underpinning Goleman’s theories also suggests that a leader’s emotional state can influence the whole organisation, both in terms of morale and productivity, which makes a strong case for investing time in developing leadership.

When reading about the styles, bear in mind that there is no expectation to become instantly adept at switching between them: it is an ongoing process, and a skill to be improved. Leaders are encouraged to keep information about the styles handy while developing their ability to switch between them. 

In the next sections we’ll explore the six leadership styles in detail, along with information about Golenan’s research, the concept of organisational climate, the concepts of dissonant and resonant leadership, and how this all fits into the bigger picture.

Coercive leadership

May also be called: Commanding leadership

    • Goleman’s definition: “coercive leaders demand immediate compliance”
    • In a phrase: “Do what I say”
  • Overall impact on organisational climate: negative: -0.26 

This leadership style is effective in a crisis situation, or when managing problematic employees. Beyond these extreme situations, however, it is likely to have negative impacts like reducing motivation or stifling flexibility.

Authoritative leadership

May also be called: Visionary leadership

    • Goleman’s definition: “Authoritative leaders mobilize people toward a vision”
    • In a phrase: “Come with me”
  • Overall impact on organisational climate: positive: 0.54 

This leadership style is effective in situations where there is not a clear course of action: the leader outlines the objective, and allows their team to deliver their own solution. This may be limiting when leading a team whose expertise is higher as it may fail to leverage the collective experience and expertise of those being led.

Affiliative leadership

  • Goleman’s definition: “Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony”
    • In a phrase: “People come first”
  • Overall impact on organisational climate: positive: 0.46 

This leadership style is effective when morale is low, or when teams are not working harmoniously. However, it carries the risk of poor performance not being corrected or for team members to not be offered guidance on their work, if leaders are wary of creating negative sentiment with their interventions.

Democratic leadership

    • Goleman’s definition: “Democratic leaders build consensus through participation”
    • In a phrase: “What do you think?”
  • Overall impact on organisational climate: positive: 0.43 

This leadership style is effective when you want to tap into the ideas and creativity of your team, and to give people a voice. Limitations may arise if this style is not accompanied by definitive leadership, as it can lead to confusion and lack of direction.

Pacesetting leadership

    • Goleman’s definition: “Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction”
    • In a phrase: “Do as I do, now”
  • Overall impact on organisational climate: negative: -0.25 

This leadership style is effective when a leader is willing to adhere to the high standards they set, and when they’re leading a team of motivated, competent people. The style presents a fine balance, and suffers when people the leader is taking control, asking too much, or not putting in enough work themselves.

Coaching leadership

    • Goleman’s definition: “Coaching leaders develop people for the future”
    • In a phrase: “Try doing this”
  • Overall impact on organisational climate: positive: 0.42

This leadership style is effective when working with people who are willing to improve and receptive to learning how to do so. It’s less effective with people who are set in their ways and unwilling to change, or in situations where immediate leadership is required.

Other things to note about Goleman’s leadership styles

Below you’ll find some useful context about Goleman’s leadership styles, as well as definitions of related concepts.

About the research

The research was carried out by a consulting firm called Hay/McBer, and drew upon a sample of 3,871 executives, randomly selected from a worldwide pool of over 20,000 candidates.

Executives’ behaviours around motivating people, managing change, and navigating crises were observed, with researchers identifying emotional intelligence capabilities that underpinned each leadership style: things like levels of self control, social skill, and empathy.

All six styles had a statistically significant impact on the organisational climate – see this information in the previous section.

The concept of organisational climate

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, organisational climate is a framework through which we can understand “the meaning and behaviour attached to policies, practices and procedures employees experience.”

Goleman cites a conceptualisation by Litwin and Stringer that identifies six key factors contributing to the working environment in an organisation:

  • Flexibility: whether employees feel free to innovate
  • Responsibility: whether employees feel a sense of responsibility to their organisation
  • Standards: what standards are set, and at which level
  • Rewards: whether performance feedback is present and accurate; whether a fit-for-purpose reward system is in place
  • Clarity: whether employees have clarity about their mission and the organisational value
  • Commitment: whether employees feel committed to a common purpose

Dissonant and resonant

You may come across Goleman’s and other leadership styles described as resonant or dissonant. A video primer for Goleman’s leadership theories provides useful definitions of each:

  • Resonant: drives teamwork and loyalty
  • Dissonant: focus on reaching a goal and getting results, rather than creating happy teams or individuals

How to develop each of Goleman’s six leadership styles

Learning about leadership styles is helpful, but organisations are often keen to know what tangible benefits they can expect when developing their leaders. The research underpinning Goleman’s theories found that organisations with leaders who practise resonant styles and have a positive impact on organisational climate were correlated with better financial results and happier teams.

Goleman suggests that development for a leader involves expanding the number of styles you’re able to call on, as well as your efficacy with each. To do both he advises strengthening emotional intelligence, and spotlights several methods for doing so:

  • Evaluating your current leadership style(s) from multiple angles
  • Identifying blind spots
  • Comparing feedback from peers with your estimates of your own performance
  • Identifying and accepting specific weaknesses
  • Exploring how these weaknesses hinder particular leadership styles
  • Accepting the need for and value of change
  • Experimenting with new methods in situ
  • Reviewing progress over time

How Goleman’s leadership styles interface with experiential learning methodologies

The points above align neatly with experiential learning: the methodology that underpins all of our kits and activities. Experiential learning gives learners the opportunity to try new things in controlled situations, to reflect on the impact of their behaviours, and to isolate and refine those behaviours that led to positive outcomes.

By creating scenarios where learning is an emergent, interactive process, leaders can take an active part in their development. And by using activities whose scenarios facilitate the exploration and usage of different aspects of leadership, learning can be guided towards meaningful, lasting change.

Taking the learning further: MTa activities to bring Goleman’s leadership styles to life

In this section you’ll find [number] of handpicked experiential learning activities that facilitators can use to develop Goleman’s leadership theories. We’ve chosen activities that give learners the opportunity:

  • To try different leadership styles
  • To try leadership styles that go against their default style, and may even feel uncomfortable to use
  • To lead within situations whose clear demands invite particular styles
  • To develop competencies associated with emotional intelligence, such as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill 

Cable Car

In this activity, the role of the leader evolves as the task progresses. Starting with visionary, then moving through different styles as the situation demands, gives participants the opportunity to see their default styles and, after review, to deliberately try different styles and evaluate their impact.

The learning opportunities for Cable Car are as follows:

  • Delegating
  • Followership
  • Gaining commitment 
  • Leading geographically separate teams
  • Communicating
  • Valuing others’ contributions

Cable Car is part of MTa Insights and MTa STEM.

The Hoist

Because The Hoist requires instruction, it’s possible that coercive or pacesetting leadership styles come to fore, letting participants see the impact of these potentially negative styles. Then, through structured review, participants are able to delve deeper into the impact before identifying and using a more suitable style.

The activity has three stages, each with its own learning opportunities:

  1. Identifying and focussing on the end goal, achieving the goal through team working
  2. Instructing others effectively: giving and receiving information
  3. The impact of involvement on personal motivation, understanding success

The Hoist is part of MTa Insights.

MTa Insights Leadership Manuals

The three MTa Insights Leadership Manuals allow facilitators to run sessions exploring incrementally more advanced aspects of leadership. 

  1. Leadership 1 introduces different aspects of leadership, giving participants a rounded understanding of different styles as well as the opportunity to apply, test, and develop their learning
  2. Leadership 2 focuses on leadership fundamentals, including delegating, gaining commitment, valuing others’ contributions, prioritising, thinking ahead, and more. The goal is to allow participants to explore and use specific leadership skills.
  3. Leadership 3 explores more advanced leadership competencies, including leading through others, leading remote teams, motivating teams to work effectively, coping with change and revising plans, and more

Across the three Manuals and nine activities they contain, participants can explore a wide range of leadership skills within the context of Goleman’s leadership styles. Structured review invites participants to reflect on their performance, and to intentionally use other styles.

The Leadership Manuals are part of MTa Insights.

MTa Coaching Skills

MTa Coaching Skills is our simple and effective kit designed to help managers to become more effective coaches.

Sessions using this kit begin with a diagnostic questionnaire to get participants thinking about their current understanding of coaching, then move onto two activities designed to highlight the differences between a traditional and coaching approach.

Participants are invited to reflect on the benefits of coaching, and to explore behaviours individually and as a group. The resulting realisations (sometimes uncomfortable!) are then developed into learning that can be carried into the workplace.

The objectives for Mta Coaching Skills are as follows:

  • Understand the attitudes, skills and behaviours required when coaching
  • To identify areas for personal improvement
  • To practise personal improvement in these areas
  • To develop the confidence to coach others
  • To consider and plan how to make best use of their learning

Find out more about MTa Coaching Skills here.

Let us help you 

Goleman’s leadership theories are enduring because they present a clear conceptualisation of leadership through which individuals can understand their ability, identify areas for improvement, and develop their potential. Organisations who invest in their leaders see improvements across multiple KPIs, demonstrating the need for this development. 

By using experiential learning activities, organisations can help their leaders to grow and become more effective, tapping into the myriad benefits on offer. If you’re looking for ways to strengthen leadership in the context of Goleman or beyond, take a look at our experiential learning kits or book a call with Jamie to discuss your needs. 

Further reading:

  • Motivation and Organizational Climate; Litwin & Stringer; source
  • Leadership That Gets Results; Goleman; source