The Affiliative Leadership Style Recipe

Affiliative leaders focus on creating an environment that is friendly and welcoming to employees. They do everything they can to make the workplace more enjoyable for their team members by fostering a sense of belonging among them and empowering those who need help.

In this guide, we’ll explore the pros, the cons, as well as tips to improve your affiliative leadership style.

What is Affiliative Leadership?

Affiliative leadership is one of Daniel Goleman’s six leadership styles, which he coined in 2002, alongside Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee in their book ‘Primal Leadership’.

They describe an affiliate leader as someone who focuses on resolving team conflict by promoting a positive bond between the team members. Sometimes team frictions block an organisation from achieving its goal.

The affiliate leader excels in communication, team building, and conflict management to empower teams to collaborate successfully and willingly, and to become a high-performing team.

The Cost of Poor leadership

In a Career Builder Study of over 2000 employees, 65% of people were perceived as not valued. Half said that they had “just a job.”

An undervalued employee tends to be less engaged and motivated. After all, we humans want to feel that we are appreciated inside and outside of work. When we don’t, our minds tend to drift.

We disengage, lose focus and look for other opportunities.

The truth is that much of the source of disengaged employees come from poor leadership, as backed up by various studies from Gallup.

By providing more care and affiliation with their teams, leaders can change this statistic and improve the working environment – one which is inducive to empowerment, autonomy, and engagement.

Simon Sinek shares this view in his book, ‘Leaders Eat Last,’ where he defines that the single biggest thing you can do as a leader is to create a circle of safety for your employees.

This means that the leaders spend time training and nurturing their employees until they are ready to be set free to take on decisions and work autonomously.

Sinek cites that a lack of control = unhappiness.

And if you give control to your employees, they will engage more because they feel that all-important emotion.

They feel valued.

This is the underlying goal of an affiliative leadership style – to ensure teams are valued and in control of their work.

The Importance of Affiliative Leadership

Probably, now more than ever, the world is caught up in numbers – output over engagement, deadlines needed now, return on investments. Most of the time, effective leadership can be forgotten and pushed behind these drivers.

This is either through:

Design – There’s no time left in the day to work with a leader’s teams.

Promotion – Leaders don’t know how to lead effectively and have been promoted into a position of incompetence.

Either way, leadership is an extremely important tool to get the best out of your assets (and that’s your people). Without it, expect:

  • High staff turnover;
  • Poor productivity;
  • Poor customer service;
  • Lower profitabibility.

The Components of an Effective Affiliative Leader

The affiliative style of leadership is dedicated to achieving an environment that is friendly and welcoming to employees. These leaders will do everything they can to make the workplace more enjoyable, which includes fostering a sense of belonging among their employees, whilst embedding a democratic leadership style.

This embodies coaching and being a type of leader that taps into the emotional needs of the team.

An effective affiliative leader has arguably four key components:

  1. concern for the welfare of others;
  2. sensitivity to interpersonal relations;
  3. altruism;
  4. empathy.

In order to achieve these, there are some core techniques and values that must be implemented effectively.

Good Communication

Good communication skills are important for affiliative leaders. Communication is often the key to working together and to building a culture of competency, trust, conflict resolution, and connection. Trust is very important in any relationship because it usually takes time to build.

Good communication skills can help to build trust among team members because they allow team members to share ideas and thoughts in a safe environment. Teams are kept abreast of the latest information and ideas and issues can get resolved quickly through active and open discussions.

Strong People Focus

The people are the top priority for affiliating leadership. Strong emotional connections and loyal teammates often create opportunities for great performance, and this type of leader knows it. They look for ways to reward teams for a great job and regularly celebrate and reward great effort and performance.

A Strong Moral Compass

A great way to cultivate an environment of competence and trust with the affiliative leadership style is to be open and honest. Above anything else, these leaders want their employees and co-workers to see themselves as a beacon of moral guidance that can be followed.

Through their own leadership example, they expect their teams to follow. This percolates through to their teams adopting the same values and beliefs.

Communicate with Transparency and Empathy

Leaders with the affiliative leadership style choose to communicate with transparency and empathy. Empathy helps a leader understand the specific needs, frustrations, and ideals of their employees, so they can best serve them.

Transparency can foster trust among staff if managed properly. It’s transparency that allows people to feel safe around a ‘genuine’ leader. There are no hidden agendas and double meaning. Communication is honest and clear.

Leaders need to combine empathy and understanding to create meaningful conversations that result in this trust.

Foster a Culture of Constructive Feedback

When a culture reflects strong feedback, employees know that their voices will be heard and valued. Constructive feedback is essential, as it allows the truth to be conveyed openly when needed.

In turn, this allows for the team to learn from what mistakes, to make things better, and to be able to face up to when things aren’t quite working as expected.

Affiliative Leadership is considered to be one of the six emotional leadership styles. This method along with visionary, coaching, democratic, commanding, and pacesetting directly impacts the emotions of workers. The popular traits of this style promote emotional ties between workers and their employees.

Skilled at Conflict Resolution

Affiliative leaders are good at solving conflict because their main aim is to create a harmonious working environment. When there is conflict, they help the members find a way to solve it together.

This leadership style is largely the same as parenting. When a child has an issue with another, we often don’t tell them what to do but cooperate with them in finding a solution. This approach can avoid power struggles and win-lose situations in teams, companies, and working groups.

The success is through making the emotional needs of the team their priority to overcome conflict.


Affiliative leaders praise their workers at the right time. They are supportive and give encouraging feedback. This makes workers feel appreciated and maintains that essential element of regular communication.

A Belief in Freedom

As this style is at the opposite end of the spectrum of the autocratic leadership style, you’d expect that this type of leader values freedom and creativity. This characteristic harbours collaboration and autonomy and is often found where teams design new services or products and solve problems together.

The Advantages of the Affiliative Leadership Style

There are some obvious benefits of putting people first and leading from a more emotional level because this style creates a positive environment for your direct reports. Here are some of the key benefits:

Creates Tighter Teams

Leaders tend to build strong working relationships and collaborative teams. The person-oriented and coaching leadership style of the affiliative leader creates a sense of continuity and belonging within the workspace, which enhances the sense of community among each team member.

Creates Flexibility

The affiliative leadership style helps people feel more confident and trustful. People are more likely to try new things when they know that the leader is on their side. This can be helpful for teams that need to be flexible because some tasks will take a lot of different approaches and trial and error.

Builds Employee Trust

This people-come-first approach style of leadership helps establish team rapport, which ultimately builds trust through the establishment of deeper working relationships.

The leader’s aim is to create a friendly and comfortable environment so members feel that they can ask questions or offer opinions, even if their views differ from the conventional wisdom.

The affiliative style also helps team building because it focuses on the interpersonal relationships between employees rather than emphasizing skills and job functions.

Conflicts are Resolved More Efficiently

Their leadership skills stretch to the ability to handle and overcome conflict amongst the team. This is an inevitable part of human interaction, and so, with an emotionally intelligent and competent affiliative leader, conflicts are ironed out quickly. help avoid conflict by taking preventive measures. 

Puts People at the Heart of Business Success

One of the most important qualities for a people-oriented boss is to be able to make decisions for the well-being of their team members. They don’t like to see their employees unhappy and know that business success and employee happiness go hand-in-hand.

A people-oriented boss believes in the power of positive feedback amongst the team, which ensures that they have a strong work culture.

Reduces Stress at Work

Affiliative leaders aim at improving employee satisfaction using positive interactions and inspiring others to do the same. This helps to reduce the potential stress of negative job experiences. Employees who are supported by leaders often feel less burnout and gain greater job satisfaction.

Fosters Freedom, Flexibility, and Creative Ideas

This manner of this consensus through participation style of leadership promotes free-spirited creativity.

It allows workers to use imaginative thinking to find and achieve new things within a circle of safety, which means that employees can try new things without fear of retribution. In return, employees can express themselves, think outside the box and work autonomously to overcome challenges and make team decisions.

Disadvantages of the Affiliative Leadership Style

Affiliative leaders often have a reputation as poor performing and lacking organisational goals and interpersonal skills. It comes down to the employees’ well-being.

Some Team Members May Feel Undervalued

It’s often hard to make a team decision due to the often sheer differences of opinions within the team. As an affiliative leader, you’ll be faced with choosing the best idea. As a result, employees may feel like they don’t have a voice in the workplace because their opinions are drowned out by others.

Too Much Praise Can Desensitise Team Members

The leader is too generous with praise, which can make it hard for employees to know when they’re doing well and when they need to improve. If praise is always given, even when it’s not fully deserved, people may stop working hard in order to get that positive feedback.

Accountability can be Hard to Nail Down

It’s often difficult for affiliative managers to be strict or hold people accountable for their actions. These leaders focus on making the workplace a warm and welcoming place, so they’re often hesitant to get in the way of that environment.

More Time Needed to Nurture the Team

Affiliative leadership style requires more time from managers who want to maintain an enjoyable 8environment at the office. It’s a big investment to be able to build a happy and engaged team. this means that a lot of time needs to go into nurturing the team.

It may be easy to get sidetracked by your busy schedule and forget about the needs of your team members, but if you do, the hard work and momentum you are building could be lost.

Cliques Can Form

Allowing the team freedom whilst fostering a sense of belonging among team members can lead to cliques forming within the organisation or team. This means there will always be some people who feel left out and isolated from the team as a whole.

Affiliative Leaders are More Likely to Avoid Conflict

Theyprefer to be liked by everyone, and they will go out of their way to accommodate team members’ needs. These leaders might also avoid giving direct criticism because it is not in their nature to cause conflict or upset people.

It Can Reduce Team Productivity Levels

When a leader is too accommodating, it can cause the team members to become complacent. The result will be a reduction in productivity among those on the team.

The affiliative leadership style can prevent an organization from achieving its goals and objectives because the leader does not provide enough guidance or direction for staff members. This can occur when leaders are too focused on being liked.

An affiliative leader relies on the personal integrity and self-discipline of each individual team member. Underperforming members may choose to take advantage if they are not monitored, so make sure that you watch out for these types of people.

If a mediocre performance is good enough, then why work harder to achieve more? Productivity levels will plummet when these leaders avoid conflict.

Working Practices May Not be Corrected

As the need to keep people happy and engaged is the primary importance of the affiliative manager, it’s often hard to change people’s behaviour.

This type of manager focuses on positivity and praise, and so, when spotting someone not performing correctly, they may try to word things in a way to avoid a potential conflict.

This means that the point may be lost. Sometimes, you need to be blunt and say things for what they are, otherwise, people and systems can’t be improved.

Affiliative leaders can create an attitude of complacency

Affiliates can make people feel comfortable. This might make people think that they don’t need to work hard. So too, if you are more dependent on the happiness of your people, without keeping another eye on performance, people may not have the targets to achieve and may naturally perform worse in comparison. We wrote an example of this major pitfall in our review on The One Minute Manager.

These leaders can sometimes lose sight of the vision because the affiliative leader is so focused on maintaining relationships and pleasing people. Without direction and goals, people tend to drift and be less productive.

Without a vision, team members can also feel frustrated and stagnant in their work because they don’t know what direction the team is going in.

Underperformance tends to be overlooked

To avoid a conflict with one’s workers an affiliative leader should avoid overlooking an employee’ It rather involves learning the causes and correct them emotionally.

It is possible that this strategy is not effective in all cases, especially where deadlines must be fulfilled so that deadlines should be fulfilled immediately. When working for a company there should always be positive energy.

Avoiding constructive criticism leads to unresolved problems

Sometimes employees need feedback for their performance to improve. A federation chief will give no such type of reaction unless he has been given the opportunity to put a positive spin. That would create complicated challenges for the organisation in the long run.

The Importance of Affiliative Leadership

It is important that business leaders are aware of the strengths of the affiliative management style. If an organisation’s employee’s are experiencing low morale or if conflict has become entrenched within the business, then an affiliative leader may well be the best choice to overcome these problems and build a team culture.

Provides Guidance During Crises

Another way that an affiliative leader can use his or her style is by helping teams in difficult situations such as mergers, cutbacks, or times of transition. The affiliative leadership style allows workers to experience what’s going on while working through their emotions and maintaining output levels.

 What Can I Do to Improve My Affiliative Leadership Style?

The key for improving your affiliative leadership style is first to improve awareness of yourself. Start by asking your team how you fair against the following critical areas:

  1. Do your direct reports believe you are too controlling? Do they need a little more direction from you?
  2. Do you tend to avoid conflict or are you too quick to jump in? 
  3. Is the team clear about your vision and direction?
  4. Do you jump on poor performance or let it ride?
  5. Do you communicate often and openly, or are there times where you are not often seen?
  6. Do you embrace constructive feedback, no matter how stinging it may seem?
  7. Do you use regular coaching styles to help nurture and train your team, so you can give them more freedom?
  8. Does your team believe you and trust you?

If you honestly (and I know this can be a scary thing to face these types of questions) scored some no answers, then these are the areas you need to improve to develop your own affiliative leadership skills.

1. If you are too controlling, learn to delegate more and use the situational leadership model to know when to teach and direct, and when to let go of control.

2. If you are weak on conflict resolution, learn how to tackle conflict head-on and make it a positive experience.

3. If the team is not clear about your visionary leadership, then focus on creating the right goals and team objectives.

4. If managing poor performance is a weakness, then ensure you make it clear what performance is needed and make it visual, so everyone can see the status.

5. If you don’t communicate regularly, focus on being a servant leader, and ensuring you adopt approaches like managing by walking about and effective one-to-one discussions. Also, encourage daily team stand-up meetings to allow the team to get themselves organised each day.

6. If you avoid feedback, then be brave and actively encourage and promote an open and constructive dialogue between team members and yourself. The only way to improve is to listen to the hard truth.

7. If coaching is not your thing, then learn the skills of coaching. Use the coaching habit or indeed continuous improvement coaching questions to help you develop your abilities.

8. If your team doesn’t believe in you and trust you, then spend more time communicating, and making your communication much more transparent. Lead by example and spend your time building genuine personal connections, by doing what you say you will do.

Additional Questions

What is an Affiliate Leadership Example?

Brendan Rogers – The Football Manager Brendan Rogers who has managed Celtic, Liverpool, and Leicester is another great example of an affiliate leader. Brendon builds energetic and confident teams that have great togetherness. Unlike some managers (Jose Mourinho as a case-in-point), he never criticises his players. Instead, he goes out of his way to praise them publicly and works hard to build a team bond with his team, so they trust him and leads with a positive impact on team success.

Warren Buffet – A solid example of an affiliative leader is Warren Buffet. His primary focus for running his company is to find the best financial professionals and then he lets them make the day-to-day decisions. His strong focus on team ethic makes him a standoff manager that values team togetherness over anything else, whilst trusting his team members to do what they need to do.

When should I use the Affiliative Leadership style?

The affiliative leader’s style worked best during stressful circumstances when members have needed help to rebuild staff faith in the organization or recover from trauma. Therefore the approach should not be used exclusively given that only nurturing and praise can provide direction and result for poor performance. It is best when used in a healing and rebuilding process and when it will provide healing to an organization that’s been affected by the traumatic experiences.

What’s the Difference Between a Pace Setting Leader and an Affiliative Leader? 

A pacesetting leadership style is typically focused on targets and the speed with which these targets are achieved. They ensure work is completed on time and to plan. The biggest drawback of this leadership style is that teams often can feel overwhelmed by deadlines and targets, which ultimately stifles creativity.

The affiliative leader favours relationships and creativity, so they are less pushy with an overwhelming amount of targets and deadlines – opting to coach teams through decision making.

What are the Other Different Styles of Leadership Under Daniel Goleman?

There are 6 different leadership styles, that Goleman et al identified in their Primal Leadership book in 2002. They are: The affiliative leader; commanding leader; visionary leader; democratic leader; coaching leader; pacesetting leader