The ability of the leader to connect emotionally with employees and drive performance does not just stem from the leader’s mood or ability to say the right thing, but also from a number of coordinated activities that comprise particular leadership styles. Daniel Goleman (Primal Leadership) notes: “The best, most effective leaders act according to one or more of six distinct approaches to leadership and skilfully switch between the various styles depending on the situation.” In other words, this kind of leadership recognises the ‘moment’ and is able to address the ‘moment’ in a way that will produce the most effective results.

In a study done by McBer and Co (now The Hay Group) on a global database of 3 871 executives (Managerial Style as a Behaviour Predictor of Organisational Climate), analysis looked at how the climate that resulted from various leadership styles affected financial results, such as return on sales, revenue growth, efficiency, and profitability. The results showed that, all other things being equal, leaders who used styles with a positive emotional impact saw decidedly better financial returns than those who did not. Most importantly, leaders with the best results didn’t practice just one particular style but used many of the six distinct styles, seamlessly and in different measures, depending on the business situation.

Goleman puts this approach beautifully in the following analogy: “Imagine the styles, then, as the array of clubs in a golf pro’s bag. Over the course of a match, the pro picks and chooses from his bag based on the demands of the shot. Sometimes he has to ponder his selection, but usually it is automatic. The pro ‘senses’ the challenge ahead, swiftly pulls out the right tool, and elegantly puts it to work. That’s how high impact leaders operate too.”

Goleman helpfully outlines the six distinct leadership styles with the understanding of the underlying emotional intelligence capabilities that each approach requires and, most compelling, each style’s causal link with outcomes. The research thus allows us to see how each style actually affects climate, and therefore performance (see table below):


The Six Distinct Leadership Styles (Goleman: Primal Leadership)

How it builds resonance Moves people towards shared dreams
Impact on climate Most strongly positive
When appropriate When changes require a new vision or when clear direction is needed
How it builds resonance Connects what a person wants with the organisation’s goals
Impact on climate Highly positive
When appropriate To help an employee improve performance by building long-term capabilities
How it builds resonance Creates harmony by connecting people to each other
Impact on climate Positive
When appropriate To heal rifts in a team, motivate during stressful times or strengthen connections
How it builds resonance Values people’s input and gets commitment through participation
Impact on climate Positive
When appropriate To build buy-in or consensus or to get valuable input from employees
How it builds resonance Meets challenging and exciting goals
Impact on climate Because too frequently poorly executed, often highly negative
When appropriate To get high-quality results from a motivated and competent team
How it builds resonance Soothes fears by giving clear direction in an emergency
Impact on climate Because so often misused, highly negative
When appropriate In a crisis, to kick-start a turnaround, or with problem employees


The leader who can successfully move between the styles depending on the business context will build resonance with employees – the first four having a strong positive impact on the emotional climate of the organisation, but the last two needing to be used carefully and with skill. Leadership competencies should thus act in unison to produce the most effective results.

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