Six Emotional Leadership Styles

Choosing the Right Style for the Situation

Daniel Goleman described these leadership styles

Find out how emotional leadership styles can affect your team's happiness.

© iStockphoto/Kuklev

Imagine that you work with a positive, charismatic leader.

She's excited about the future of the organization, and she shares this excitement with her team. She makes sure that people understand how their efforts contribute to this future, and this inclusion sparks loyalty and intense effort in the team.

Generally, morale and job satisfaction are high, because team members feel that they're making a difference. However, some people in her team don't respond well to this style of leadership. And when there's a crisis, she struggles to get some of them to focus on short-term objectives.

She could be more effective by varying her approach to leadership, depending on the situation; and she could do this by using "six emotional leadership styles," each of which is useful in different circumstances.

In this article, we'll look at these six emotional leadership styles. We'll explore each style, and we'll look at the situations where each is most useful. We'll also explore how you can develop the skills needed to use each style effectively.

The Six Emotional Leadership Styles

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee described six distinct emotional leadership styles in their 2002 book, "Primal Leadership." Each of these styles has a different effect on people's emotions, and each has strengths and weaknesses in different situations.

Four of these styles (Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, and Democratic) promote harmony and positive outcomes, while two styles (Commanding and Pacesetting) can create tension, and should only be used in specific situations.

Goleman and his co-authors say that no one style should be used all of the time. Instead, the six styles should be used interchangeably, depending on the specific needs of the situation and the people that you're dealing with.


You'll be able to choose the best style to use if you know how to "read" others and the situation you're in. This is where it's useful to improve your listening skills  , learn how to understand body language  , and improve your emotional intelligence  .

We'll now examine each style in more detail.

1. The Visionary Leader

People using the Visionary leadership style are inspiring, and they move people toward a common goal. Visionary leaders tell their teams where they're all going, but not how they're going to get there – they leave it up to team members to find their way to the common goal. Empathy   is the most important aspect of Visionary leadership.

When to Use It

Visionary leadership is most effective when the organization needs a new vision or a dramatic new direction, such as during a corporate turnaround. However, it's less likely to be effective when you're working with a team more experienced than you are – here, democratic leadership is more likely to be effective.

This leadership style can also be overbearing if you use it too often.

How to Develop It

To develop a Visionary style, focus on increasing your expertise, vision, self-confidence   and empathy  . Get excited about change, and let your team see your enthusiasm.

You also need to convince others of your vision, so focus on improving your presentation skills  .


Imagine that, in order to reach some aggressive sales goals, you've decided to overhaul the way that your department connects with new clients. The techniques and processes you've developed are radically different from the ones that your people are used to.

As you tell your team about the new process, you can't help but be excited. You believe that these changes will make a real difference to your results, and you want your people to succeed.

Your team immediately picks up on your excitement and sincerity, and they get excited too. They know it's up to them to use the new system to make things happen, and they're willing to put in the extra work needed to learn new skills.

2. The Coaching Leader

The Coaching leadership style connects people's personal goals with the organization's goals. A leader using this style is empathic and encouraging, and focuses on developing others for future success.

This style centers on having in-depth conversations with employees that may have little to do with current work, instead focusing on long-term life goals and how these connect with the organization's mission.

This style has a positive impact on your people, because it's motivating, and it establishes rapport   and trust  .

When to Use It

The Coaching style should be used whenever...

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