Daniel Goleman’s 6 Leadership Styles, Explained

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What are Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles? How can you use these styles to instill harmony in your team?

Daniel Goleman is an author, lecturer, and psychologist who focuses on behavioral science and the brain. In his co-authored book Primal Leadership, Goleman goes over the six leadership styles that can create group harmony.

Here’s an overview of each one of the six leadership styles.

How to Create Group Harmony

Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles that can create group harmony are: visionary, coaching, collaborative, poll-taking, standard-setting, and authoritarian. Most effective leaders use many of these six styles on any given day or week, applying the style that’ll be most effective based on the situation, people, and emotions involved.

To effectively use each of Goleman’s leadership styles, it’s important to exhibit the microskills they’re based on—if you lack the necessary microskills, you might end up creating discord rather than harmony. For example, if you try to create harmony with the visionary style but lack the ability to inspire others, you’re more likely to create discord. 

Additional Leadership Styles

While the six leadership styles discussed in Primal Leadership are common, experts note that there are four additional styles that are prevalent in US work culture: laissez-faire, transformational, transactional, and bureaucratic. Laissez-faire leaders delegate many tasks to team members but provide little to no supervision. Transformational leaders focus on communication and motivation to achieve organizational goals. Transactional leaders are focused on mentorship and establishing rewards to achieve group success. Bureaucratic leaders designate tasks hierarchically and rely minimally on collaboration. Each of these styles can produce harmony in the appropriate context.

1. Visionary

A visionary leader creates group harmony by motivating people to move toward a shared goal or dream. A leader enacts this style by articulating the dreams and goals of the team but not specifying how they’ll reach those goals. She inspires her team to move in the right direction while leaving room for them to develop their own way forward through innovation, creativity, and collaboration. 

(Shortform note: Experts note that one of the downsides to relying on visionary-style leadership is that it’s possible to lose short-term focus. These leaders are often so focused on moving toward some future goal or dream that they can become distracted or unmotivated to complete goals or tasks that are more immediate. Consequently, the team may fall behind on deadlines or benchmarks.)

2. Coaching

A coaching leader creates harmony by encouraging and helping individual employees reach their full potential. A leader enacts this style by working with individuals to identify personal and career aspirations and to create a plan of action to achieve them. She motivates employees to complete difficult tasks and overcome challenges that may be hindering their progress. 

Coaching During Covid

Experts note that in our post-Covid world, the coaching leadership style is needed now more than ever. During these difficult times, we’re required to navigate losses, the challenges of working from home, and a decrease in social interactions. Many people lose their motivation as a result. The coaching leadership style is one of the most effective styles to deal with these obstacles, experts explain, because it creates motivation and momentum for employees by establishing exciting short- and long-term goals. So not only can employees feel a near-immediate sense of accomplishment, but they will also have goals to work towards in the future as well.

3. Collaborative

The authors call this style affiliative, and it creates harmony by building strong relationships among team members. A leader enacts this style by forming interpersonal relationships with employees—by sharing emotions, providing support during hard times, and giving praise for jobs well done. 

(Shortform note: This leadership style is widely discussed among business and management experts, and is also referred to as “people-first” or “servant” leadership. Experts explain that, in addition to the benefits discussed by the authors, servant leadership is beneficial to the community as well: These leaders aren’t only concerned with the well-being of their employees, but the well-being of the community and environment as a whole. Experts add that in our present circumstances—the Covid pandemic and environmental crises due to global warming—these leaders are especially sought after and needed.)

4. Poll-Taking

The authors call this style democratic, and it creates harmony by involving group members in decision-making. This style shows employees that the leader values their input and ensures that everyone’s on the same page about decisions. A leader enacts this style by laying out problems and solutions and asking her employees or stakeholders what they think the best option is. 

(Shortform note: In The Culture Map, Erin Meyer argues that leadership styles ultimately break down to two types: egalitarian and hierarchical. While the vast majority of leadership styles in the US, and included in this list, are hierarchical, poll-taking is uniquely egalitarian. This is the one leadership style addressed by the authors where both employees and leaders are treated as equals, having equal say in the decision-making process.)

5. Standard-Setting

The authors call this style pacesetting, and it’s used to create harmony by setting an example for employees to follow which can help the group overcome challenges and accomplish exciting goals. In this style, a leader sets high standards for herself and her team, quickly identifies shortcomings, and demands perfection. Rather than giving employees specific guidelines, she expects them to simply watch and learn from her. 

This style creates harmony only if the leader is able to empathize with others, is aware and in control of her emotions, and is able to bring people together as a team. Without these microskills, standard-setting will create discord because it can make employees feel burnt out and confused about what exactly the leader wants from them.

(Shortform note: Experts explain standard-setting leadership can also create discord by eroding employees’ confidence. Not only will this decrease motivation and productivity, but it can also lessen an employee’s EI abilities—self-confidence is a microskill of self-awareness, so if you lack confidence your self-awareness will decrease. And according to the authors’ argument, your ability to self-manage is likely to decrease as well.)  

6. Authoritarian

The authors call this style commanding, and it’s used to create harmony by providing strict direction in a critical or high-stress situation. A leader enacts this style by giving orders and expecting immediate compliance without explaining her reasoning. She controls the situation very tightly, and if employees fail to follow orders, they are faced with threats or punishment.

This style creates harmony only if the leader is able to empathize with others and is aware and in control of her emotions. Without these microskills, authoritarian leaders will create discord by making group members feel intimidated and putting them in a bad mood because of their demands and lack of empathy.

(Shortform note: Psychologists explain that an example of an extremely well-known authoritarian leader is Bill Gates. Gates built one of the most successful tech companies to date because of his authoritarian leadership, characterized by high demands and quick turnarounds. However, a number of employees have recently come out to describe him as demanding, impatient, unrelenting, and condescending, reporting that most employees were dissatisfied with his leadership because he created discord in the workplace.) 

Daniel Goleman’s 6 Leadership Styles, Explained

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Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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