July 23: Leadership

Jul 1, 2023 | PSL Newsletters

We are all leaders. Different environments require you to adopt a leadership style that will have an impact and make an effective difference.
We are all leaders. Different environments require you to adopt a leadership style that will have an impact and make an effective difference.
I am at the airport in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, with fellow travellers returning from the Amazon rainforest. It is raining. Heavily. The plane to Cusco is cancelled, and my fellow travellers are getting worried. Whether it is because of my laid-back “it will all work out in the end” approach to life, or my military background showing through, I don’t know. However, I emerge as the group leader and arrange snacks and water, get our luggage stashed in one place and guarded, contact our base in Cusco, find out about delayed flights and ensure we are first in the queue when the plane arrives.

Everything works out, even if we are delayed by nine hours and accompanied by an escaped parrot on the flight. However, I am still curious about why I emerged as the group leader and whether a different leadership style would have worked better.

But then, we are all leaders. Sometimes we elect to lead. At other times, we emerge as unwilling leaders when events push us in that direction.

I have written about essential elements of life after the children leave home in this year’s newsletters: money, materialism, spirituality, service and contribution. Leadership is the missing element that binds together all these aspects of life after the kids.

It is a privilege to lead. It is an opportunity to serve others at the highest level, mould the world to your values and make a difference. This is why it is essential to understand and use the most appropriate leadership style for the many and varied situations you can impact.

Leadership styles

Daniel Goleman developed a popular categorisation of leadership styles in 2000. Coleman is a well-known author, psychologist, and science journalist. He wrote for The New York Times for twelve years, reporting on the brain and behavioural sciences.

According to Goldman, we lead in one of six ways:

Coercive leadership, or “Do what I tell you.”

This leadership style is essential for high-risk, high-compliance situations where mistakes can be fatal. It comes to the fore in the military, nuclear, extraction and aviation sectors and is appropriate for crises.

Frequent orders, tight control and monitoring, and negative, corrective feedback characterise this leadership style. I recall how we were never praised for getting it right or doing it well in the Forces, only reprimanded for getting it wrong.

Authoritative (visionary) leadership, or “Come with me.”

This leadership style is prevalent in new businesses, creative industries and causes.

Visionary leaders seek to create and encourage people to subscribe to their long-term vision. They often ask for suggestions on achieving the vision but won’t relinquish their authority. Selling and explaining their concept is central to their style, and they will build motivation with balanced feedback and performance against their standards.

Affiliative leadership, or “People come first.”

Leaders of small teams and organisations where everyone knows each other use this leadership style. It is common in schools but does not work in high-knowledge professions such as law and accounting.

The affiliative leadership style aims to build harmonious bonds between leaders and teams. The emphasis is on meeting an individual’s emotional needs rather than standards and goals. Feedback is positive, confrontation is avoided, and personality is rewarded as much as performance.

Democratic leadership, or “What do you think?”

Leaders of medium to large organisations, volunteer organisations, charities and research organisations favour the democratic leadership style.

Democratic leaders seek to build commitment and consensus through participation. They let their teams and people get on with it and make their own decisions. The democratic style will involve lots of meetings and listening to others. Democratic leaders avoid negative feedback and sanctions and reward okay performance.

Pacesetting leadership, or “Do as I do.”

You will find this style used by business owners; without care, it can segue into management.

Pacesetting leadership is leadership by example. Success is often the motivation behind pacesetting leadership, and the leader expects teams to understand and maintain high standards. Delegation is avoided, and detailed instructions and processes are standard. Poor performance is usually not excused.

Coaching leadership, or “Try this!”

Leaders who like to let go are starting to adopt an emerging coaching style of leadership.

Leaders using this style are keen to help members of their organisation build on their preferred strengths and place them in an arena where they can work towards their long-term goals and aspirations. A coaching leader sees mistakes as an asset and will use failures to encourage growth and development.

Is your leadership style effective?

So there you have it. However, it is essential to remember that there is no best style. Sometimes a leader will combine different types, and an individual may lead one way in a business situation and another at home.

However, there are some situations where applying a specific leadership style can be highly damaging.

For instance, a military commander in a battle situation with the bullets flying is unlikely to succeed by calling a meeting to discuss options. Similarly, if the house is burning down, you will have to change your leadership style from your usual domestic democratic style to a much more coercive style.

Now that you understand leadership styles, ask yourself how you lead in different situations and whether your style effectively creates change and makes a difference. Also, think about how you like to be led. Do you, for instance, prefer visionary leaders who ask you to follow them, or do you react better to democratic leaders who consult your opinions?

Finally, look at how others do it and assess their impact. Pick a handful of leaders who are frequently in the news or read biographies of famous leaders. Decide which form of leadership they are using and assess its impact. Another style might be more effective.

All of this will help you determine how to lead your team effectively to make an impact that improves the wealth and happiness of those with whom you come in contact.


Goleman, D. (2000) Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, Mar-Apr 2000.

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