What Is Pacesetting Leadership? Definition and Advantages

Updated February 3, 2023

There are various styles of leadership, usually ranging from laissez-faire methods to more involved approaches. The pacesetting leadership style falls somewhere between those ends of the spectrum, involving both hands-off management and the need for intervention. If you're responsible for managing a team, it's helpful to understand how this style of leadership can help or hinder the results they achieve.

In this article, we define pacesetting leadership and explore its advantages over other forms of leadership.

What is pacesetting leadership?

Pacesetting leadership is a style of management or professional guidance in which the leader demonstrates, by example, the level of performance and quality expected of their juniors—known as "setting the pace." Pacesetting is a results-oriented style of leadership that asks team members to match or exceed the standard shown to them. It emphasizes individual accountability, so it's necessary for the members of a team to meet all of their deadlines and quality targets. These are several guiding principles for the successful execution of this leadership style:

Related: 10 Common Leadership Styles (Plus How To Find Your Own)


One of the guiding principles of this leadership style is a well-considered balance between the difficulty of a task and the aptitude of the team member assigned to it. This balanced workload facilitates high-quality work and timely completion of tasks. If an individual struggles to fulfill their duties, the leader may intervene to complete the work or consider replacing the team member in question.

Skill proficiency

When the individual members of the team have the skills necessary to complete their duties, the pacesetting leader can trust them to meet their goals. Because the team members are all very capable, they can be more likely to produce high-quality work. A high level of proficiency typically requires minimal instruction and management. This helps foster independence, which can benefit the business in a number of ways, from increased productivity to more innovation.

Related: What Is Transactional Leadership?

Positive work culture

A positive work culture typically focuses on continuous improvement. Continuous improvement refers to a strategy of identifying operational deficiencies and taking steps to reduce them to increase production. A culture of continuous improvement fosters a pacesetting style because it promotes individual and collective betterment as an intrinsic reward. A team that sees others around them strive continuously for their goals can motivate them to contribute at an equal, if not greater, level.

Related: How To Write a Workplace Continuous Improvement Plan in 5 Steps

What are the main elements of pacesetting leadership?

The main elements of this kind of leadership are as follows:

Self-motivated leader

Self-motivation is the quality of being driven to accomplish tasks and achieve goals not by external incentives, but by an internal drive to succeed. To successfully execute a pacesetting style of leadership, it's necessary for the leader to be a highly self-motivated individual. Strong performance and constant improvement are rewards in themselves that can lead to further payoffs, such as professional advancement and improved reputation.

Related: How To Stay Self-Motivated at Work


Having initiative means possessing the ability to assess a situation, determine what the situation requires and perform activities to meet those requirements without external instruction. Initiative is an extension of self-motivation. It impels the pacesetting leader to understand when and how to intervene when team members aren't meeting their quality goals. Demonstrating this important leadership quality helps to ensure that the team as a whole completes its work on time and per specifications.

Related: 9 Ways To Take Initiative at Work

Clear requirements and expectations

Though the premise of this leadership style involves setting a high-quality example for the members of a team, an effective leader understands the importance of communication in getting their team members to understand the requirements of a task. When beginning a project, the leader clearly conveys the specifications of the project and what they want each member of the team to accomplish. Eliminating ambiguity helps to ensure the alignment of team goals and prevent any uncertainty concerning expectations.

Related: 10 Benefits of Effective Communication in the Workplace

What are the advantages of pacesetting leadership?

The pacesetting style offers several advantages to the teams that adopt it. These include:

Fast results

Because pacesetting places such an emphasis on results and meeting standards, it often leads to a quick realization of short-term goals. This can be especially helpful when the goals are urgent or otherwise time-sensitive. For example, an organization trying to complete the development of a product in time for the holiday shopping season may adopt this leadership style to ensure the timely completion of its product.

Related: What Is Achievement-Oriented Leadership? (Plus Benefits)

Leveraging of strengths

Successful implementation of the pacesetting leadership style hinges on the leader's ability to leverage their team's strengths. The leader strives to assign tasks that align with each team member's competencies. Providing employees with work that challenges them but is also realistic can help sustain their motivation and desire to improve.

Related: 18 Types of Leadership Assessments

Well-defined expectations

When the leader sets the pace, the team can better understand what they expect. With the pacesetting style of leadership, the employees you manage are more likely to be clear on their key progress indicators, which can help them strive for levels of quality that are less abstract and more comprehensible. Well-defined expectations can also help reduce communication errors and potential conflicts in individual projects.

Related: What Is Operational Leadership? (Importance, Duties and Traits)

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What are the disadvantages of pacesetting leadership?

There may also be some challenges that the pacesetting style of leadership presents, including:

Disengagement long term

Some individuals require more mentorship and guidance to fit in with a particular style of work. For such people, a pacesetting style of leadership may be alienating instead of engaging. To prevent or soften such a consequence, try to identify those team members who may need more of an expressive style of leadership. Provide them with resources for professional development and help them become more self-sufficient.

Related: Functional Leadership Model: Key Components


Though a pacesetting style often makes clear what the leader expects from the team, there's still the chance of miscommunication in terms of quality standards and specific processes. When this happens, employees may doubt that their efforts align with the leader's expectations, resulting in delays or lower-quality work. To avoid such a circumstance, compound your pacesetting example with direct communication with your team. This can help to eliminate ambiguity and align everyone with the appropriate goals.

High pressure

Managers often adopt a pacesetting leadership style in order to complete an urgent project or another time-sensitive series of tasks. This sense of urgency can place a great deal of pressure on the members of your team, which can cause a sense of overwhelming feelings. That's why it's important for a pacesetting leader to set realistic goals and allocate tasks with individual competencies in mind. It's also important to remind team members that you value their contributions to alleviate some pressure.

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