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capable as he was, he became a micromanager,
obsessed with details and taking over for others
when their performance slackened. Instead
of trusting them to improve with guidance and
development, Sam found himself working
nights and weekends after stepping in to take
over for the head of a floundering research
team. Finally, his own boss suggested, to his relief,
that he return to his old job as head of a
product development team.
Although Sam faltered, the pacesetting
style isn’t always a disaster. The approach works
well when all employees are self-motivated,
highly competent, and need little direction or
coordination—for example, it can work for
leaders of highly skilled and self-motivated
professionals, like R&D groups or legal teams.
And, given a talented team to lead, pacesetting
does exactly that: gets work done on
time or even ahead of schedule. Yet like any
leadership style, pacesetting should never be
used by itself.
The Coaching Style. A product unit at a global
computer company had seen sales plummet
from twice as much as its competitors to
only half as much. So Lawrence, the president
of the manufacturing division, decided to
close the unit and reassign its people and
products. Upon hearing the news, James, the
head of the doomed unit, decided to go over
his boss’s head and plead his case to the CEO.
What did Lawrence do? Instead of blowing
up at James, he sat down with his rebellious direct
report and talked over not just the decision
to close the division but also James’s future.
He explained to James how moving to
another division would help him develop new
skills. It would make him a better leader and
teach him more about the company’s business.
Lawrence acted more like a counselor than a
traditional boss. He listened to James’s concerns
and hopes, and he shared his own. He
said he believed James had grown stale in his
current job; it was, after all, the only place he’d
worked in the company. He predicted that
James would blossom in a new role.
The conversation then took a practical turn.
James had not yet had his meeting with the
CEO—the one he had impetuously demanded
when he heard of his division’s closing. Knowing
this—and also knowing that the CEO unwaveringly
supported the closing—Lawrence
took the time to coach James on how to
present his case in that meeting. “You don’t get
an audience with the CEO very often,” he
noted, “let’s make sure you impress him with
your thoughtfulness.” He advised James not to
plead his personal case but to focus on the
business unit: “If he thinks you’re in there for
your own glory, he’ll throw you out faster than
you walked through the door.” And he urged
him to put his ideas in writing; the CEO always
appreciated that.
Lawrence’s reason for coaching instead of
scolding? “James is a good guy, very talented
and promising,” the executive explained to us,
“and I don’t want this to derail his career. I
want him to stay with the company, I want
him to work out, I want him to learn, I want
him to benefit and grow. Just because he
screwed up doesn’t mean he’s terrible.”
Lawrence’s actions illustrate the coaching
style par excellence. Coaching leaders help employees
identify their unique strengths and
weaknesses and tie them to their personal and
career aspirations. They encourage employees
to establish long-term development goals and
help them conceptualize a plan for attaining
them. They make agreements with their employees
about their role and responsibilities in
enacting development plans, and they give
plentiful instruction and feedback. Coaching
leaders excel at delegating; they give employees
challenging assignments, even if that
means the tasks won’t be accomplished
quickly. In other words, these leaders are willing
to put up with short-term failure if it furthers
long-term learning.
Of the six styles, our research found that
the coaching style is used least often. Many
leaders told us they don’t have the time in
this high-pressure economy for the slow and
tedious work of teaching people and helping
them grow. But after a first session, it takes
little or no extra time. Leaders who ignore
this style are passing up a powerful tool: its
impact on climate and performance are
markedly positive.
Admittedly, there is a paradox in coaching’s
positive effect on business performance because
coaching focuses primarily on personal
development, not on immediate work-related
tasks. Even so, coaching improves results. The
reason: it requires constant dialogue, and that
dialogue has a way of pushing up every driver
of climate. Take flexibility. When an employee
knows his boss watches him and cares about
what he does, he feels free to experimentAfter all, he’s sure to get quick and constructive
feedback. Similarly, the ongoing dialogue
of coaching guarantees that people know what
is expected of them and how their work fits
into a larger vision or strategy. That affects responsibility
and clarity. As for commitment,
coaching helps there, too, because the style’s
implicit message is, “I believe in you, I’m investing
in you, and I expect your best efforts.”
Employees very often rise to that challenge
with their heart, mind, and soul.
The coaching style works well in many business
situations, but it is perhaps most effective
when people on the receiving end are “up for
it.” For instance, the coaching style works particularly
well when employees are already
aware of their weaknesses and would like to
improve their performance. Similarly, the style
works well when employees realize how cultivating
new abilities can help them advance. In
short, it works best with employees who want
to be coached.
By contrast, the coaching style makes little
sense when employees, for whatever reason,
are resistant to learning or changing their
ways. And it flops if the leader lacks the expertise
to help the employee along. The fact is,
many managers are unfamiliar with or simply
inept at coaching, particularly when it comes
to giving ongoing performance feedback that
motivates rather than creates fear or apathy.
Some companies have realized the positive impact
of the style and are trying to make it a
core competence. At some companies, a signifi-
cant portion of annual bonuses are tied to an
executive’s development of his or her direct reports.
But many organizations have yet to take
full advantage of this leadership style. Although
the coaching style may not scream
“bottom-line results,” it delivers them.
Leaders Need Many Styles
Many studies, including this one, have shown
that the more styles a leader exhibits, the better.
Leaders who have mastered four or
more—especially the authoritative, democratic,
affiliative, and coaching styles—have
the very best climate and business performance.
And the most effective leaders switch
flexibly among the leadership styles as
needed. Although that may sound daunting,
we witnessed it more often than you might
guess, at both large corporations and tiny
start-ups, by seasoned veterans who could explain
exactly how and why they lead and by
entrepreneurs who claim to lead by gut alone.
Such leaders don’t mechanically match their
style to fit a checklist of situations—they are
far more fluid. They are exquisitely sensitive to
the impact they are having on others and
seamlessly adjust their style to get the best results.
These are leaders, for example, who can
read in the first minutes of conversation that a
talented but underperforming employee has
been demoralized by an unsympathetic, do-itthe-way-I-tell-you
manager and needs to be inspired
through a reminder of why her work
matters. Or that leader might choose to reenergize
the employee by asking her about her
dreams and aspirations and finding ways to
make her job more challenging. Or that initial
conversation might signal that the employee
needs an ultimatum: improve or leave.
For an example of fluid leadership in action,
consider Joan, the general manager of a major
division at a global food and beverage company.
Joan was appointed to her job while the
division was in a deep crisis. It had not made
its profit targets for six years; in the most recent
year, it had missed by $50 million. Morale
among the top management team was miserable;
mistrust and resentments were rampant.
Joan’s directive from above was clear: turn the
division around.
Joan did so with a nimbleness in switching
among leadership styles that is rare. From the
start, she realized she had a short window to
demonstrate effective leadership and to establish
rapport and trust. She also knew that she
urgently needed to be informed about what
was not working, so her first task was to listen
to key people.
Her first week on the job she had lunch and
dinner meetings with each member of the
management team. Joan sought to get each
person’s understanding of the current situation.
But her focus was not so much on learning
how each person diagnosed the problem as
on getting to know each manager as a person.
Here Joan employed the affiliative style: she
explored their lives, dreams, and aspirations.
She also stepped into the coaching role,
looking for ways she could help the team
members achieve what they wanted in their
careers. For instance, one manager who had
been getting feedback that he was a poor team
player confided his worries to her. He thought
he was a good team member, but he was plagued by persistent complaints. Recognizing
that he was a talented executive and a valuable
asset to the company, Joan made an agreement
with him to point out (in private) when his actions
undermined his goal of being seen as a
team player.
She followed the one-on-one conversations
with a three-day off-site meeting. Her goal
here was team building, so that everyone
would own whatever solution for the business
problems emerged. Her initial stance at the offsite
meeting was that of a democratic leader.
She encouraged everyone to express freely
their frustrations and complaints.
The next day, Joan had the group focus on
solutions: each person made three specific proposals
about what needed to be done. As Joan
clustered the suggestions, a natural consensus
emerged about priorities for the business, such
as cutting costs. As the group came up with
specific action plans, Joan got the commitment
and buy-in she sought.
With that vision in place, Joan shifted into
the authoritative style, assigning accountability
for each follow-up step to specific executives
and holding them responsible for their accomplishment.
For example, the division had been
dropping prices on products without increasing
its volume. One obvious solution was to
raise prices, but the previous VP of sales had
dithered and had let the problem fester. The
new VP of sales now had responsibility to adjust
the price points to fix the problem.
Over the following months, Joan’s main
stance was authoritative. She continually articulated
the group’s new vision in a way that reminded
each member of how his or her role
was crucial to achieving these goals. And, especially
during the first few weeks of the plan’s
implementation, Joan felt that the urgency of
the business crisis justified an occasional shift
into the coercive style should someone fail to
meet his or her responsibility. As she put it, “I
had to be brutal about this follow-up and make
sure this stuff happened. It was going to take
discipline and focus.”
The results? Every aspect of climate improved.
People were innovating. They were
talking about the division’s vision and crowing
about their commitment to new, clear goals.
The ultimate proof of Joan’s fluid leadership
style is written in black ink: after only seven
months, her division exceeded its yearly profit
target by $5 million.
Expanding Your Repertory
Few leaders, of course, have all six styles in
their repertory, and even fewer know when
and how to use them. In fact, as we have
brought the findings of our research into
many organizations, the most common responses
have been, “But I have only two of
those!” and, “I can’t use all those styles. It
wouldn’t be natural.”
Such feelings are understandable, and in
some cases, the antidote is relatively simple.
The leader can build a team with members
who employ styles she lacks. Take the case of a
VP for manufacturing. She successfully ran a
global factory system largely by using the affiliative
style. She was on the road constantly,
meeting with plant managers, attending to
their pressing concerns, and letting them know
how much she cared about them personally.
She left the division’s strategy—extreme
efficiency—to a trusted lieutenant with a keen
understanding of technology, and she delegated
its performance standards to a colleague
who was adept at the authoritative approach.
She also had a pacesetter on her team who always
visited the plants with her.
An alternative approach, and one I would
recommend more, is for leaders to expand
their own style repertories. To do so, leaders
must first understand which emotional intelligence
competencies underlie the leadership
styles they are lacking. They can then work assiduously
to increase their quotient of them.
For instance, an affiliative leader has
strengths in three emotional intelligence competencies:
in empathy, in building relationships,
and in communication. Empathy—
sensing how people are feeling in the moment—
allows the affiliative leader to respond to
employees in a way that is highly congruent
with that person’s emotions, thus building
rapport. The affiliative leader also displays a
natural ease in forming new relationships,
getting to know someone as a person, and
cultivating a bond. Finally, the outstanding
affiliative leader has mastered the art of interpersonal
communication, particularly
in saying just the right thing or making the
apt symbolic gesture at just the right moment.
So if you are primarily a pacesetting leader
who wants to be able to use the affiliative
style more often, you would need to improve
your level of empathy and, perhaps, yourskills at building relationships or communicating
effectively. As another example, an authoritative
leader who wants to add the
democratic style to his repertory might need
to work on the capabilities of collaboration
and communication. Such advice about adding
capabilities may seem simplistic—“Go
change yourself”—but enhancing emotional
intelligence is entirely possible with
practice. (For more on how to improve emotional
intelligence, see the sidebar “Growing
Your Emotional Intelligence.”)
More Science, Less Art
Like parenthood, leadership will never be
an exact science. But neither should it be a
complete mystery to those who practice it.
In recent years, research has helped parents
understand the genetic, psychological, and
behavioral components that affect their

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