Coercive Leader – What it is, The Pros, Cons and Signs You May be One

Coercive leadership is a type of leadership that has been shown to be effective in some situations, but it can also lead to disastrous results. This article will cover what coercive leaders are, the pros and cons andthe warning signs that you may be one yourself.

What is a coercive leader?

A coercive leader is a type of leadership style defined by Daniel Goleman in his theory on Emotional Intelligence. Coercive leaders are known for their competitive spirit, as well as being mentally and psychologically demanding with the people they work closely with.

Goleman defines a coercive leader as one that is characterised by demanding unquestioning obedience from subordinates, who are not consulted about what needs to be done or how things should be done; rather, they are told what to do and how to do it.

Coercive Leadership: Concepts

Around the coervice leadership style are a number of concepts.

  • Process control: They typically manage employees around processes and standards – ensuring they stick to the plan and follow the proven methods in front of them. This allows for efficiency and management control;
  • Commanding style: This is where a leader commands or orders subordinates to do something without necessarily knowing why these things need to be done. They dictate and tell their team members what to do and how to do it;
  • Reward for compliance: Workers will only receive rewards if they comply with their superiors. In fact, the leadership style of a coercive leader is one driven by rules and regulation, in much the same way as a theory x leader. If they do, then like Paslov’s dog, they get rearded for their compliance.


Although the coercive style has more negative connotations, it does have its positives. Here are some typical areas:

It Offers Control and Order

The coercive leader is a stickler for organisation, structure and standards. This means that decisions go through them. For this reason, they seek compliance. There’s little room for coaching. People know what is expected of them, because they are generally told in no uncertain terms.

It is the Easiest Way to Control a Team

Just tell them what to do and set clear rules and boundaries! This style of leadership then involves monitoring and reinforcing these rules. If expectations are met, then the leader can see it quickly and deal with the problem efficiently.

Short Term Impact in Motivation

Those who are natural coercive or authoritarian leaders believe that there’s no need for any additional training to motivate workers. Team members will be motivated just by following orders and recieving rewards for being compliant. This approach can have a short term impact in motivating employees.

Improved Workplace Safety

Through structure and control, the workplace becomes more organised and orderly. This reduces the chance of slips, trips and falls, as employees work to the orgnisational standards set by the leader.

Effective Management of a Small Team

Without the normal structure of a large group, employees are more likely to bend some rules or work in an unconventionally and casual manner. The coercive style of leadership guarantees rule enforcement and ensures deadlines for all tasks will be met, while also ensuring the employees work to the standards set.

Increased Productivity

In the short term, you can expect a improvement in productivity, due to the extreme clarity and structure that the coercive style beings. Employees are clear what they need to do, how to do it and by when. This helps reduce wasted time asking unneeded questions, allowing more time spent working.

Coercive Leaders Eliminate Insubordination

There’s always an employee in every team that pushes the boundries to the limits, often bending or even breaking the rules. Under a coercive leadership style, this problem is eraticated quickly with their non nonsense approach to managing those that don’t maintain standards.

They Put the Best People in the Right Places

Efficiency and immediate compliance is key. That’s why this leadership style works by quickly putting people with the right skills in the right part of the process. This division of labour focuses on optimised productivity and quality of output.

It’s Great for a Crisis

When issues arise and a crisis appears, the coercive leader can be one of the most powerful leadership styles to use. They’re great at taking decisive and swift action. They rally the troops by telling them clearly what needs to happen next and how to do it. This means increased repsonse times and efficient and effective actions.


On the other end of the spectrum, are the caveats and disadvantages to the coercive leadership style. Here are the main cons:

The Coercive Leader Will Never be Popular

With a command and control philosophy, employees often feel stifled and frustrated. There is little room for autonomy and empowerment, and voices are rarely heard. Due to this style of management, they are the last person to form strong bonds and alliances.

Where productivity and structure may be a plus, happiness and morale suffers in the long term. People don’t want to be around power hungry managers forever.

It Eliminates Creativity and Innovation

The “do as I say” approach actively discourages creatvity and innovation. Quite simply, employees aren’t asked for their opinions. They are told what to do, and their opinions rarely matter. This means that opportunities for innovation are few and far apart, outside the manager’s viewpoints.

Employee Turnover Rates Increase

Stifled and demotivated employees tend to not stick around for long, and the majority seek to work for more personable leaders. This instability can cause a lot of problems from cost of recruiting new employees, to additional cost to train them and reduced productivity and quality as new employees learn the required skills.

Employees May Retaliate

Pockets of employees can feel so agrieved through the command and control approach and lack of a coaching style, that some agrieved employees who believe the leader is abusing their position, may well sabotage processes and performance, as well as actively confronting the leader, causing greater devision amongst the team.

Coercive Leaders Must be Feared to be Effective

It’s all very well being a coercive manager, but if you are not feared, then employees may just dismiss your direction.

For this reason, you have to be seen to demonstrate your authority. This normally comes in the form of disciplining those that don’t perform, reprmianding poor performance or missed deadlines and threaten discipline if standards aren’t met.

Long Term Productivity May Suffer

Although coercive leadership may give a short term boost to productivity, in the long term it may not be sustained. This is often due to the unhappiness and lack of inspiration given to employees. Long term suppression will often mean that employees disengage.

Managing by installing fear of retribution, will eventually to a morale crisis, eroding trust and respect, and often leading to high employee turnover rates.

Signs You May be a Coercive Leader

Take our quick test to see if you lean on the coercive leadership side. Grab a pen and paper, read these 6 questions and answer yes against each one.

  1. Do you give more direction than you do listening to your employees?
  2. Do you struggle with delegation and prefer to do things yourself?
  3. Are you a believer that employees can be trusted and that they need to be supervised?
  4. Are you a stickler for structure and control over creativity and innovation?
  5. Do you favour a monetary bonus to try to motivate your employees?
  6. Do you need to know almost everything your team is doing so there are no surprises?
1.Do you give more direction than you do listening to your employees?
2.Do you struggle with delegation and prefer to do things yourself?
3.Are you a believer that employees can be trusted and that they need to be supervised?
4.Are you a stickler for structure and control over creativity and innovation?
5.Do you favour a monetary bonus to try to motivate your employees?
6.Do you need to know almost everything your team is doing so there are no surprises?
Total Yes Answers:

If you answered 4 yes answers or more, then you’re quite possibly more of a coercive style manager.

Actions to Improve Your Coercive Leadership style

Maintaining structure is a big plus for coercive leadership styles. The challenge is to use the strengths of this approach, but ensure you add a bit more personable skills to help your workers develop in their roles without stifling them.

Ensure you implement the following:

  1. Establish clear and effective rules so everyone understands what to expect and how to behave;
  2. Provide your team with the knowledge and tools they need. Give them training and support so they understand clearly what they must do and obtain the required competence levels;
  3. Remain consistent in your coercive style. Be factual and use data to make decisions and judgements. When discussing performance, talk about what you see, not what you think;
  4. Recognise success. Praise employees for work well done and encourage more of it. Look for opportunities to praise good performance, instead of looking for immediate reprimands when people do things wrong.

Additional Questions

What is coercive power in leadership?

Coercive power is the ability of a leader to install fear into employees. This fear can be losing one’s job, missing out on a bonus, not getting a pay rise, being demoted or losing status in one’s role. It’s a threat, either formally or informally, used in a position of power.

Naturally, it’s not a great way of leading and will enventually lead to a more negative culture than a positive one, but is often used by coercive managers to motivate others.

What are the six leadership styles relating to the coercive style?

These styles were coined by Daniel Goleman, and they are: Authoritative, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting and Coercive. Each one has a different effect on the emotions of people that you’re leading, as well as the company’s organisational culture.