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what is affiliative leadership

Affiliative Leadership: What it is, Pros & Cons, and Tips

author Ranee profile imageRanee Zhang
Jul 28, 20227 mins
What is Affiliative Leadership? 

Employee happiness and satisfaction are directly correlated with productivity. According to research by Oxford’s Saïd Business Schoolemployee happiness increases productivity by 13%. Conversely, unhappy, disengaged employees are more likely to engage in unproductive work behavior, such as tardiness, absenteeism, and sabotage.

So then, how do you promote employee happiness and satisfaction?

One way to do that is to adopt an affiliative leadership style, which focuses on creating harmonious relationships at the workplace and promoting emotional well-being.

This guide will help you understand affiliative leadership, its benefits and drawbacks, and how to become an effective affiliate leader.

What is Affiliative Leadership? 

Affiliative leadership is one of Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles, proposed way back in 2002. And even today, it is considered one of the most effective leadership styles.

Affiliative leadership focuses on creating a positive work environment by building strong interpersonal relationships.  Affiliative leaders tend to be more open with their employees. They help them succeed by leveraging their strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. 

Leaders with an affiliative leadership style value their followers' input on important decisions. They also care about their well-being, particularly their job satisfaction. For these leaders, the happiness of their team members is the top priority. They believe that if employees are happy, they will perform better. 

Characteristics of the Affiliative Leadership Style

Below are a few characteristics of affiliative leadership that cover everything about this leadership style. Let’s take a look!

  • A “People First” approach - Affiliative leadership focuses on people’s needs and expectations. There's a belief that if people’s needs get fulfilled, they will be better committed to performing their jobs.

  • Harmonious relationships - An affiliative leader wants harmony above everything else. He strives toward resolving conflicts and keeping everyone on the same page.

  • Positive feedback - Affiliative leaders focus more on the positive qualities of their followers. They make sure that the employees receive praise whenever they perform well. By focusing on the positives, the leader instills confidence & motivation among employees.

  • A strong sense of empathy - To be an affiliative leader, one has to have high levels of empathy. Such a leader can understand his team’s emotional needs and look after their well-being.

  • Participative dialogue - Affiliative leadership encourages employees to voice their opinions. They can share their ideas and perspectives. The leader does not make decisions without taking the consent of his followers.

Affiliative Leadership Examples 

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was a great example of affiliative leadership. He focused on empowering employees and creating a family atmosphere within the company. As a result, he saw high levels of job satisfaction among his employees and extreme loyalty, which helped him make Walmart one of America's most popular retail stores. 

“Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can accomplish.” — Sam Walton 

The concept also works in sports, with Joe Torre, the New York Yankees coach during the 1999 World Series. The race was taking a toll on his players’ psyches, threatening their chances of winning the title. Here are some of the things Joe did to help his team pull through and become the champion.

  • Joe opened up to his players about his battle with cancer. Showing his own vulnerability helped him build trust with the players.

  • During the team’s celebration party, Joe gave special praise to two team members who had remained committed to the team even after losing their parents during the season.

  • On numerous occasions, Joe reminded his players how their efforts had contributed to the team's success.

All these actions helped build an environment of trust and genuine care within the team and ultimately played a huge role in helping them win the title.

Advantages of Affiliative Leadership Style

  • High employee morale - In affiliative leadership, employees get more freedom to express their ideas and opinions. This makes them feel valued, and it raises their morale. Because of this, their motivation levels are high, leading to increased productivity.

  • Builds employee trust - Affiliative leaders are more open to their teams. They share honest feedback with them and are transparent about things. They are good listeners as well. This builds trust in the employees, which plays a crucial role in developing strong teams. If a junior trusts his leader, only then will he be able to show his vulnerable side to him and seek support.

  • Reduces workplace pressure - An affiliative leader puts people first. He makes sure that his team does not feel overburdened by work or that nobody feels burnout. This reduces workplace pressure and allows employees to work at their own pace.

  • Employee empowerment - Affiliative leadership helps empower employees by giving them opportunities to present their views, delegate tasks, and take their input while making important decisions. It makes them more independent and competent. 

  • Drives innovation and creativity - It gives room for innovation and creativity as employees can participate in the discussions. They can offer suggestions and creative ideas, which may prove beneficial to the organization.

Disadvantages of Affiliative Leadership Style

  • It may lead to poor performance. As affiliate leadership emphasizes positive feedback and appreciation, leaders may not be able to communicate inefficiencies. Because of this, employees don’t get to know where they need to improve, leading to poor performance. 

  • It may not be suitable for transformational changes. There are times when organizations need to make big or bold changes, which usually happens at the time of mergers or acquisitions. Employees are usually resistant to such changes. It then becomes challenging for an affiliative leader to make them comfortable with the change and get their support. 

  • It can create a sense of complacency among employees. When people receive praise all the time, it can make them think highly of themselves. This may give rise to an attitude of complacency. They begin to believe they have reached the pinnacle of success. Such an attitude can prevent them from growing further and hampers their learning. 

 How to Become an Effective Affiliative Leader?

 As the affiliative style has both pros and cons, it’s important to understand how one can become a good affiliative leader. Below are some tips that can help you cultivate an affiliative leadership style and boost your team’s happiness, well-being, and productivity.

  • Be transparent about your goals 

Your people have no reason to trust you if they do not know what you stand for and where you plan on taking them. By gaining their trust, you can develop strong relationships and motivate them to work towards the goal. 

  • Be patient with yourself and others

Take time to get to know your followers. Strive for open communication, get buy-in from others before making decisions, and don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong. Those that succeed at being affiliative leaders are ready, willing, and able to accept mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failures. 

  • Follow a balanced approach

To be an effective leader, praise your employees when they do well. But, also don't hesitate to give them constructive feedback when needed. This approach will encourage them to improve their skills & performance.

  • Give team members autonomy

One way to show your team that you trust them is to give them the autonomy and flexibility to do things their own way. For instance, you could give them flexible work hours or allow them to work from home on certain days.

Of course, you have to make it clear that this is only applicable on the grounds that they don’t compromise their work. Even when you give them such flexibility, follow up regularly to ensure that everyone is playing their part.

What Are the 5 Other Leadership Styles?

People often think of leadership styles as something you are born with or that you can’t change. However, research by psychologist Daniel Goleman reveals that we all have leadership strengths that can be enhanced with effort. 

Goleman has identified six leadership styles—visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, coercive, and pacesetting. While one style may be more effective in a given situation, no single style works best in all situations.

1. Authoritative Leadership Style

Authoritative or visionary leaders offer inspiration, set goals, and create a sense of urgency. They often have strong convictions about what needs to be done, but they don't always spell out exactly how to do it.

2. Coaching Leadership Style

Coaching leaders get things done through others by setting high standards and giving specific feedback. They believe in delegating responsibility but not authority, so they hold team members accountable for results without micromanaging them. 

3. Democratic Leadership Style

Democratic leaders listen to input from everyone involved and solicit ideas for solving problems. They encourage participation in decision-making, even if it means putting off action until everyone agrees on a course of action. 

4.  Coercive Leadership Style

Coercive leaders take charge by asserting power over others. Their primary concern is getting things done quickly and efficiently, regardless of whether team members feel included or engaged in decision-making.

  5. Pacesetting Leadership

Pacesetting leaders expect top performance from themselves and others. They push for quick decisions, immediate implementation, and measurable results. While pacesetting leaders tend to perform well under pressure, they also tend to alienate those around them who aren't willing or able to keep up with their pace.


In the times that we are living in, every employee wants to be empowered, and that’s why the affiliative leadership style is getting popular. Are you planning to take on an affiliative style? Stick to the rules, be patient and hopefully, it will yield good results.

Ranee Zhang

Ranee has worked in the SaaS industry for nearly ten years. She loves working with, learning from, and helping develop effective leaders and is willing to share her thoughts through words. Outside of work, you can find her dancing, hiking in the mountains, or reading in a cafe.

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