Creating a positive work environment should be a goal for any good manager. However, there are so many methods for doing this it can be overwhelming.
Understanding the emotional needs and wants of those that work under you takes time and dedication. Learning how to best resolve conflicts among coworkers requires skill and a high level of emotional intelligence. All of these things can be accomplished by a great leader.
Having a strong base knowledge of different leadership styles and how they will affect the team is a great place for anyone to start their leadership journey. Finding the method that will work best for your own personality and team is crucial for success.
What is Affiliative Leadership?
This style of leadership focuses mainly on building strong relationships between employees and management. Creating a positive work environment for all is a major goal of these leaders. By building a strong sense of community in the workplace, Affiliative leaders also generate a high level of trust among workers.
Communication is a key component of this leadership style. It is through authentic and focused communication that these leaders are able to accomplish their goals. Affiliative leaders see their employees as more than just subordinates and deeply care about their dreams, wellbeing, and happiness.
Affiliative leaders strive to create a workplace that is peaceful and harmonious. Ideally, conflicts will be few and far between, but when they do arise, these leaders resolve them quickly and with little drama. Followers feel heard and understood by these leaders and share in their goal of creating a positive work culture.
In the 90’s Daniel Goleman, known for his research on emotional intelligence and leadership, outlined six main leadership styles. They are Authoritative, Coaching, Pacesetting, Democratic, Coercive, and Affiliative. While each of these has its own specific characteristics and can be used independently, Goleman stressed the importance of balancing different styles as was required by specific situations.
Affiliative Leadership characteristics
- Positive focus
Affiliative leaders are all about building people up. Giving compliments for good work and recognizing top performers creates an atmosphere of affirmation. People like to be praised for their accomplishments and respond well to this method. Providing positive feedback can be a great way to encourage staff to do their best work. Showing appreciation for the work that people are putting into a company is an important part of fostering high morale.
Another factor in facilitating a positive work culture is having some flexibility. Being able to respond to the needs of employees, whatever they may be, will put people more at ease and lessen stress. In order to address issues that may arise with grace, Affiliative leaders must be willing to do what is necessary to solve them appropriately. There is no one size fits all approach that will work to resolve every conflict.
Affiliative leaders strive to create a peaceful environment in the workplace. While some conflict is unavoidable, these leaders take action to ensure that it will be kept to a minimum. Issues are less likely to arise when honest and open communication is the standard practice. Affiliative leaders want everyone to get along and are willing to take action to make that a reality.
- Lower levels of stress
Having a leader that is dedicated to resolving conflicts and maintaining peace within the workforce lessens the amount of stress that employees will feel. Actively addressing issues as they arise prevents people from ruminating on them for a long period of time. Employees that are more relaxed will be able to focus more on their work than on unrelated issues within the workplace.
- Builds a tightly knit team
With a culture of collaboration instead of competition, staff members are more likely to work together as a team to help the group succeed. Over time the bonds between employees will grow as they learn how to work together in the most effective way. Having a skilled team that can work well together to achieve their goals is an extremely valuable asset for any company.
Affiliative leadership is fairly hands-off. Because employees feel a deeper sense of duty towards their manager and their team, they will be more likely to do good work without constant supervision. Feeling appreciated and important will lead them to seek out improvement opportunities in order to be a more productive member of the team.
When employees feel supported and encouraged they are more likely to think outside the box. Having the ability to think and work more creatively can lead people to come up with innovative solutions to work problems. Old methods for doing things can be reimagined and potentially streamlined or improved. Staff that feels more comfortable at work are more likely to collaborate with each other.
- Potential for underperformance
Since Affiliative leaders are so focused on the emotional needs of their followers, there is the possibility that underperformance will not be addressed. Not every employee will be equally open to hearing negative feedback, and as such, these leaders may attempt to avoid that conflict. Employees might also see underperformance not being addressed and assume that doing the bare minimum is good enough.
- Loss of long term goals
Having an exclusive focus on the needs and emotions of the staff of a company shouldn’t come at the cost of the business's goals. There is the possibility that people using this style of leadership will become so focused on their team that they forget what they are working towards. There is a delicate balance between meeting the needs of employees and making sure that the work is still being done. Affiliative leaders may have a hard time maintaining this balance and sway in favor of keeping the peace among workers.
- Emotional dependence on the leader
If other team members have not been properly trained or guided in conflict resolution, they may develop an unhealthy reliance on the leader. This can also be a downside of empathy generally. While building and maintaining relationships with employees can have a positive effect, it is also vital to assert boundaries within the workplace. Affiliative leaders need to make sure that they are empowering their staff to eventually resolve their own issues instead of always doing it for them.
How to become an Affiliative Leader
- Monitor external issues
It is important to keep track of issues that may be affecting your team. Some of these may be coming from outside the organization or team itself, and therefore be out of your control. However, it is still possible to help offset negative impacts that they may have by addressing them head on. Maintaining a stable emotional base for your workplace will prevent outside factors from causing extreme disruptions on a regular basis.
- Use it in addition to other styles of leadership
While affiliative leadership is highly effective in creating a positive work environment, issues may arise if it is the only method being used. Pairing it with another style of leadership can help to avoid many of the potentially negative outcomes.
- Provide feedback
It may be tempting to avoid negative conversations however, being able to successfully utilize this leadership style is dependent on honest communication. Providing staff with constructive criticism can help to avoid long-running performance issues. Appropriate feedback can also be helpful in preventing conflicts between staff. Keeping expectations equal among the whole team will ensure fair treatment for everyone involved.
- Track performance
A good way to avoid underperforming is to create a standard method for assessing work. The parameters for this should be objective, to avoid the perception of favoritism. Employing this method will allow for conversations about underperformance to be less personal and emotional. Issues with individual employees can be identified and you can work together to come up with the best way to move forward.
When to avoid
- When staff are underperforming
When used exclusively, Affiliative leadership may not be the best choice if there are significant performance issues. Since these leaders focus on praise as a motivator, employees can become complacent. Certain scenarios will require a leadership style that can incentivize employees to improve and provide appropriate feedback when they are not up to par.
- In large groups
While there are some elements of this leadership style that can be applied to larger groups, it is best suited to smaller teams of people. Trying to form deep emotional connections with too many people can be an impossible task. In the end, you can come off as inauthentic or condescending.
Affiliative Leadership examples
Affiliative leadership is extremely versatile and can be implemented in a variety of businesses.
Teachers may find it is a helpful tool to use for maintaining peace and a sense of connection in their classrooms. Fostering a sense of care among students and teachers alike can be extremely beneficial for the learning environment.
It is also extremely useful in places where the same small group of people is working together all of the time. Keeping open communication and resolving conflicts quickly is important when the quality of work is dependent on how well the team can function as a unit.
Famous affiliative leaders
- Joe Torre
As the manager of the Yankees from 1996 to 2007, Torre was able to guide his team to numerous victories. While he was initially considered to be a bad choice for the role, he quickly proved his merit as a leader to both the public and the team.
Managing a team like the Yankees, full of so many all-star players, certainly takes a skilled leader. Torre was able to solve issues within the team and foster a supportive and positive culture. After his many years there, he is now remembered as one of the greatest managers that the team has ever had.
- The Dalai Lama
As the spiritual and former political leader of Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama is well known to be a powerful leader. Through the lens of his Buddhist teachings, he leads with a strong sense of duty and empathy for those that follow him.
A large part of his success is his ability to connect with and be authentic with those that follow him. People see his kind and compassionate persona and are drawn to it. He both leads by example and teaches others to do the same. By doing this, he is able to increase his influence and reputation.
While it may still be stressful at times, people should feel at ease when they come to work. A peaceful work environment is an important factor for the overall well-being of staff and managers alike. Although this may not be a major focus for all companies, Affiliative leaders consider it a top priority.
Using this style of leadership, managers can turn a toxic company culture around into a more positive one that benefits everybody. Meeting the emotional needs of employees and helping them each to feel more fulfilled will result in a higher level of dedication and morale.