Monday, 16 October, was Boss’s Day in the US. If you’re a boss, you may think every day is Boss’s Day, or you may be feeling a bit overlooked by your staff. How your employees behave toward you is influenced by your leadership style. Do you know what yours is?

A Google search of leadership styles will turn up thousands of results. There are consultancies entirely dedicated to conducting leadership style assessments and providing leadership training. Often different terms are used to describe the same styles. How do you make sense of them? How can you determine what your leadership style is and therefore how to make the most of the strengths of your style and minimise the impact of the elements that may hinder your performance as a leader?

Leadership and business success

Daniel Goleman’s “Leadership That Gets Results” is a landmark Harvard Business Review study from 2000. Goleman and his team spent three years studying more than 3,000 middle-level managers, in an attempt to understand specific leadership behaviours and evaluate their influence on the culture and working environment of the organisation. He also looked at links between leadership style and profits and found that 30% of bottom-line profitability could be attributed to leadership style. That makes understanding your personal style more than just a curiosity; it is crucial to the success of your business!

The six styles

Goleman identified six types of leaders. Rarely does an individual conform absolutely to one type or another. Humans are complex creatures and most of us will exhibit a mix of the six qualities, and different styles will come to the fore in different situations. In a crisis there is no time to gather input; decisive, urgent action is needed and a leader must act with uncompromising authority. When contemplating entry into new markets, however, a participatory approach that draws on the expertise of the whole team may be more appropriate. However, regardless of the need to adapt one’s leadership approach to both the circumstances and the nature of the organisation (an innovative tech company needs a different type of leader than does a health care provider or civil engineering firm, for example, where mistakes could cost lives), we all have a dominant or preferred style. We may not exhibit 100% of the characteristics of any one type of leader, but it is likely that in an assessment one style will stand out. So what are the six styles, according to Goleman?


The pacesetting leader, as the name suggests, expects others to keep up with him. He is driven and demands excellence from his team. This style can work if the team is highly skilled and self-motivated and quick results are needed, for example in a fast-paced, competitive industry. However, it can be a bit overwhelming. Leaders who rely too heavily on this approach may find they have high turnover in the organisation.


The authoritative leader rallies the team toward a common goal; how it is achieved is at the discretion of the individuals. She takes people with her by setting out the vision, but does not provide explicit guidance. The name is a bit misleading; authoritative leaders do not, in fact, rule with absolute authority, rather they inspire an entrepreneurial spirit in the team. This style may be problematic if the leader has a team of experts who know more than she does; she risks having her control hijacked.


The affiliative leader is a ‘people person’. Feelings come first. He works to establish bonds that bind employees to the organisation emotionally. This style can be particularly helpful in times of stress, e.g. after a restructuring (not during it, when hard decisions have to be taken) or during a difficult period (perhaps a key account has been lost or market share has been ceded to a competitor) when the team needs to rebuild trust. A leader should use this style judiciously; nurturing is important but, if used exclusively, it may encourage mediocre performance. Tough love is necessary sometimes.


The coach enjoys developing people. She encourages employees to try new things and she helps colleagues and staff build their personal strengths. For this style to be effective, there has to be a willingness to learn and change amongst the team; and the leader needs to be proficient as a coach. Recalcitrant staff or a leader unskilled in coaching may result in disaster.


The coercive leader…coerces. Comply or else! In a crisis or emergency, e.g. a hostile takeover attempt, this is the most appropriate style. The leader must demonstrate decisiveness and control of the situation, and he must keep those around him calm. Outside of these circumstances, this style can distance employees and make them feel bullied.


The democratic leader takes a participatory approach. She seeks input and values the opinions of her employees. She takes decisions after consultation. People generally like working for a democratic leader and morale is usually high. Staff feel they have buy-in to plans and goals, and this style is essential when that buy-in needs to be secured. But the democratic leader must radiate confidence; otherwise, she may appear weak and indecisive and reliant on the opinions of others. This style won’t work in a crisis or in a situation where colleagues lack sufficient skill or knowledge to contribute to the decision-making process effectively or provide meaningful guidance to the leader.

What style of leader are you?

If you want to have some fun, there are many online leadership style quizzes you can take. Some only include three or four styles, and the outcome may be oversimplified. The more questions and response options the quiz contains, the more nuanced and accurate the result. Or contact us. EOH Human Capital Solutions is an expert in Human Resources, consulting, remuneration and psychology. We can help you assess your leadership style and that of your management team. Contact us on    012 940 6300 or

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