Career Development

Affiliative Leadership: Definition and Tips

February 22, 2021

The type of leadership a manager chooses to use will affect the emotional, mental and physical health of their team. Whether this effect is positive or negative depends on which style. Affiliative leadership is one of many styles of leadership that positively impacts employees. In this article, we explain what affiliative leadership is, why it's beneficial and how to become a great affiliative leader.

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What does affiliative mean?

Affiliative is defined as a behavior that tends to promote social or emotional cohesion. In business, affiliative can be a way to describe the leadership style of someone who is focused on solving conflicts.

What is affiliative leadership?

Affiliative leadership is one of six styles of emotional leadership described by Daniel Goleman and promotes positivity, a harmonious workplace and team-building. This leadership style focuses on conflict resolution and creating personal connections between employees and their managers to build a sense of community and trust.

Related: What is Management?

Benefits of affiliative leadership

Here are some of the main advantages of the affiliative leadership style:

Creates effective teams

This style of leader does a great job at building strong, close-knit teams and collaborative companies. Creating unity within the workplace provides employees with a sense of safety and inclusiveness, which helps reduce employee turnover and increase productivity and job satisfaction.

Increase employee morale

Affiliative leadership motivates employees by giving workers more freedom to express their opinions, feelings and creative ideas. Workers feel valued and vital to the company when they have more autonomy, boosting their desire to perform well and contribute more to their work.

Builds employee trust

Employees typically open up more to leaders that express an interest in their well-being, naturally creating a trusting relationship. Transparency between managers and employees is essential for building a team that trusts one another and inspiring team members to speak up about issues and ideas.

Provides guidance during crises

Affiliative leaders are often used to help teams or companies in challenging times, such as a merger, cut back or another transitional period that impacts the well-being of employees. This leadership style allows workers to process what is going on and work through their emotions while maintaining work production and quality or getting it back up to normal speed.

Resolves conflicts more efficiently

Affiliative leadership helps avoid conflicts before they grow bigger by taking proactive measures. Because this style is tuned into emotions, a leader can read team member relationships and notice when tension is high, then work quickly to come up with a solution to avoid a larger issue. This helps maximize team cohesion and productivity.

Reduces workplace stress

Employees with a caring leader often experience less burnout and greater job satisfaction. Affiliative leaders work hard to improve employee well-being by using positive interactions and inspiring others to do the same, which helps reduce potential stress caused by negative work experiences.

Affiliative leadership characteristics

This style of leadership is characterized by the following qualities:

Creates harmony

This style focuses on conflict resolution in the workplace, prioritizing meaningful connections and the emotional needs of their employees. This mutual leadership technique helps prevent the potential adverse effects of negative criticism and maintains a peaceful, empathetic work culture.

Understands others' needs

Affiliative leadership focuses on connecting with individuals and reading their emotions to ensure their well-being.

Offers praise

One of the main characteristics of affiliative leadership is motivating employees through reward. It focuses on offering praise and encouragement to support the growth of an individual.

Allows flexibility

Flexible working conditions, such as casual Fridays or work-from-home days, is another characteristic of this style of leadership. Affiliative leaders use more laid-back and comfortable work environments to build trust with employees and reduce stress.

Encourages creativity

This leadership style encourages the flow of creativity and innovative thinking, allowing employees to use their imagination to discover new ways of accomplishing goals and solving problems. This also encourages teams to work together and share ideas more freely.

Builds resilience

Affiliate leadership helps teams and entire organizations overcome major impactful events. It encourages flexibility during periods of transition and helps mitigate potential emotional challenges during change.

Focuses on the positive

Overall, affiliative leadership centers around positive interactions, advocating for productive feedback and empathetic communication.

Related: 15 Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Tips to become an affiliative leader

Use these suggested tips to become an effective affiliative leader:

  • Use a balanced approach.
  • Train your team on conflict resolution.
  • Pay attention to internal and external issues.
  • Maintain performance tracking.

Use a balanced approach

Being a great affiliative leader starts with the ability to balance your methods of giving feedback. Provide praise often when employees do well, but also make sure to give them constructive criticism that motivates and encourages them to improve their skills and performance. Reaching company goals and nurturing your team is a delicate task, so you need to be able to support your team and be empathetic, while still pursuing the company mission.

Train your team on conflict resolution

Effective affiliative leadership starts with you but requires your team's efforts as well. As a leader, it is your job to help resolve conflicts. However, your team needs to take on some of this responsibility too. Hold conflict resolution training to teach your team how to handle workplace conflicts efficiently so that they can solve internal problems and you can assist when needed.

Related: 5 Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies

Pay attention to internal and external issues

While an affiliative leader needs to be attentive to the emotional needs of employees and build a strong team, they also must pay attention to external issues that arise outside of the team that could affect the well-being of employees. It's important to look at the company as a whole and how you can help your team grow and succeed within it.

Maintain performance tracking

One potential drawback of affiliative leadership is that it focuses on team building and employee well-being over work performance and production. Watch employee productivity closely and keep track of individual employee performance. A leader, regardless of their style, needs to recognize potential future issues, notice areas within their team that need improvement and have strategies in place to make adjustments.

Related: How to Be a Leader

Affiliative leadership examples

These two examples of affiliative leadership show how it can effectively build trust and creating a safe, positive work environment:

Example 1

After a year of difficulties, Marissa's manager has left the department due to several complaints regarding his style of leadership. Mr. Williams had a more coercive and pace-setting style, focused solely on performance and meeting deadlines. The rest of Marissa's team is now untrusting and experiencing low morale, a disconnect with the company's mission and lack of focus. Marissa receives a promotion to take over as the new manager and uses her empathy and interpersonal skills to rebuild the team before taking on major projects or objectives.

To help the team get back to a healthy place, Marissa holds a series of meetings where she allows the team to express their feelings about their previous manager's style of leadership and their concerns about working with the company going forward. Allowing everyone to communicate openly helps them connect over similar experiences, building a sense of togetherness. Team members also start to bond with Marissa and see her as a trusting, caring leader. After a few meetings, the team feels more relaxed and excited about a new start.

Example 2

*Martin is a top-performing lawyer who loses his mother during the year. His boss, Dave, checks on him frequently to support him while he mourns. He encourages Martin to take extra time off if he needs it and assures him his cases will be taken care of while he's gone. Martin chooses to keep working with the continued emotional support of Dave.

At the end of the year company party, Dave commends Martin in his speech, telling everyone how committed Martin was to his work of helping others, despite his own traumatic experience. Dave's support and praise show that he values his team members and cares about their well-being, which motivates the other employees to keep working hard for the company because they know they are also valued.*

Five other types of leadership

Here are five other primary leadership styles, as defined by science journalist and author, Daniel Goleman:

Authoritative leadership

Also known as "visionary leadership," this style focuses on inspiring others to achieve goals. They give their teams an objective and allow them to work together collaboratively to accomplish it, rather than telling them how to do it. Authoritative leadership shows the most empathy and works most effectively during organizational changes.

Coaching leadership

Coaching leaders utilize empathy and encouragement to help others grow to their highest potential. They focus more on mentoring employees, connecting their long-term life goals with the company's mission and motivating them to build critical skills. This style helps build trust and rapport and works well with team members that may need career guidance.

Democratic leadership

Democratic leaders seek the input of their teams and focus on collaboration to make decisions, rather than making them on their own and giving their team directions. This style works best when a decision affects the whole team, when a leader needs their team to accept an idea or when a consensus is required to move forward with a project.

Pacesetting leadership

A pacesetting leader focuses on meeting goals and maintaining a high-performing team. They expect success and will assist with projects as necessary to ensure employees meet deadlines. This style of leadership is best to motivate employees during short deadlines when high-quality work is needed.

Coercive leadership

This style of leadership focuses on giving orders and maintaining tight control over the production of work. This style should be generally avoided but can be effective during times of crisis and when handling situations involving employee misconduct.


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