Affiliative Leadership Style: One of The 6 Emotional Types

The affiliative leadership style is one of the six emotional leadership styles and it encourages emotional bonds among the team to create high morale, motivation, and better performance. The foundations of the affiliative leadership style require an understanding of the self-interests and emotional needs of the people in your team. We have explored the cases you can apply affiliative leadership style, benefits, and flaws in this article.

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What is the Affiliative Leadership Style?

The inception of the affiliative leadership style dates back to 2002. Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee analyzed the six emotional leadership styles in their book “Primal Leadership”. These are visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, commanding and pacesetting.¬†Each of these six emotional leadership styles has different effects on people and there are certain circumstances where you can use each style.

The affiliative leadership style with the visionary, coaching, and democratic leadership (also known as participative leadership) styles promotes collaboration, communication, and better outputs. However, two of the emotional leadership styles, commanding and pacesetting can create conflicts, stress, and tension among the team and you should apply them only in particular cases.

The affiliative leadership style resembles the traits of the servant leadership style. In this leadership style, “People come first”. The affiliative leader thinks of the self-interests and emotions of the people above all other things. The primary focus of the affiliative leader is creating a positive environment, where people can express their opinions freely, and effective collaboration. The affiliative leadership style best works when there are trust issues or conflicts among the team, or if the team is going through a stressful period.

The Affiliative leadership style promotes harmony within the team and emphasizes emotional connections. It connects people by encouraging inclusion and resolving conflict. To use this style you need to value others’ emotions and have a strong awareness of their emotional needs. Let’s go over the traits, examples, benefits, and flaws of the affiliative leadership style.

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5 Traits of Affiliative Leadership Style

An affiliative leader must possess several leadership skills. However, some skills should be more dominant than others. We have listed the top 5 traits of the affiliative leadership style.

1- Communication ‚Äď Relationship

Communication, relationship, and interpersonal skills are crucial for great leaders. Based on research, executives and managers spend 90% of their time on communication. The survey results justify this as well. In the affiliative leadership style, people come first, and the leader seeks the emotional needs of the people and tries to address them.

Professionals seek for confident and easy communication with their leaders. They expect to see emotional intelligence and leaders who can see the issues from different perspectives.

Affiliative leaders should wander around and be visible to the people in their team. So, people should feel comfortable when communicating with their leaders and the leaders should be easily accessible. That is why professionals pick communication as the top leadership skill.

2- Integrity ‚Äď Trust ‚Äď Authenticity

One of the best cases to apply the affiliative leadership style is if there are conflicts among the team and if there are trust issues. Affiliative leaders are fair and at equal distance to all members of the group. Their actions are taken as a role model by others. Therefore, leaders must be trustworthy.

You should have seen examples where leaders or managers go along better, and have more personal relationships with some individuals compared to others. Humans are social, and this can be. However, your personal relationships must not affect your work and attitude toward the people in your team. You can read more about this in authentic leadership style article.

3- Encouragement – Motivating Others

The affiliative leadership style is all about the mood of the people, increasing their morale and motivation so they can produce better outputs. Affiliative leaders inspire people, motivate their teams, and encourage them to produce the best results. Professionals seek encouragement as a leadership skill in their leadership team.

There are several ways to encourage people. The most common ways are setting clear goals, giving incentives, appreciation verbally, and celebrating success. If you see any mistake or misbehavior of your team members, avoid talking about this in the group. Try to set up a one-on-one meeting. Refrain from phone or online meetings.

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4- Positivity

Think for a moment about the best boss that you’ve ever had. What was it that made working with him or her so rewarding?

Maybe your manager was happy and excited about his work, and that made you feel happy and excited, too. He never got angry when problems came up, but instead focused on finding workable solutions. He was confident but always ready to hear other people’s opinions. As a result, you enjoyed your job and consistently performed well.

Scientific research shows that a leader’s emotional state can impact everyone in an organization. The leader’s mood can cause a chain reaction that affects not only morale but also productivity and the bottom line. Affiliative leaders should be realistic and positive. Sometimes, there is a misconception between positivity and seeing things through rose spectacles.¬†Leaders should be calm, positive, and optimistic. Otherwise, the negative energy can affect their team and it can hamper the business productivity in the organization.

5- Conflict Management and Negotiation

The affiliative leadership style best works when there are conflicts, friction, and tension among the team. Conflicts are unavoidable wherever there is a human interaction. You should not be afraid of the conflicts. However, affiliative leaders must have conflict management and negotiation leadership skills.

There are five types of conflict management techniques:

  1. Avoiding: This is simply delaying to make a decision about the issue.
  2. Competing: Addressing the conflict directly and trying to solve the conflict as quickly as possible.
  3. Accommodating: This is resolving the issue by giving in to the opposing party.
  4. Compromising:¬†This is referred to as ‚Äúlose-lose‚ÄĚ as well. Each side is pushed to make some sacrifices to reach a resolution.
  5. Collaborating:¬†This method looks for ‚Äúwin-win‚ÄĚ resolution. Parties look for a solution that will make everyone happy.

Affiliative leaders should use their leadership skills to overcome conflicts in the best way. Win-win may not be the ultimate outcome in some circumstances.

Affiliative Leadership Style Example – Jane

Jane works as a Customer Experience Manager in a coffee house chain. After a tough year, Jane’s boss has been fired by the company management. Although he was competent, he was applying an authoritarian leadership style, and the feelings and emotions of the people were nothing to him as meeting the department goals was his top priority.

Now, Jane has been asked to take over his position as a Services Director, and Jane is excited about this opportunity.¬†However, there are challenges ahead. The team is emotionally battered and untrusting. Therefore, Jane decided to apply an affiliative leadership style and focus on the team’s emotional needs before doing any other departmental or functional work.

In the first team meetings, Jane allows everyone to speak about how they feel about work and their ex-boss. Everyone is encouraged to speak and express their emotions. Everyone realizes that more or less every team member has gone through the same path.

After a couple of meetings, the atmosphere among the team has changed, the team is more open to talk and to new relations.¬†Because Jane focused on the emotional needs of the people above all other things. Now, Jane’s team is ready to focus on new projects and goals.

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3 Cases to Use Affiliative Leadership Style

The affiliative leadership style works best whenever there is team tension or conflict, when trust has been broken, or if the team needs to be motivated through a stressful time.

1- Team Tension or Conflict

As the affiliative leader focuses on the self-interests and emotions of the people, this can lessen the friction among the team. Conflicts are unavoidable wherever there is human interaction. If conflicts cannot be resolved quickly, this can increase the friction among the team and can cause underperformance. The affiliative leadership style seeks effective conflict resolutions and win-win solutions most of the time.

2- Broken Trust

If the work requires teamwork and collaboration, trust is a must to ensure among the team members. Team members should be able to trust each other. Instead of showcasing each other’s weaknesses, they should look for ways to develop each other.

The affiliative leadership style ensures team building and grows strong teams that have strong professional bonds and perform efficiently to provide better outputs. Tuckman identifies team building in five stages:

  • Forming: The team is gathering at this stage. The team is structured, and no one knows each other enough.
  • Storming: The team starts to perform and interpersonal conflicts start to arise.
  • Norming: In this stage, team members are creating new ways of doing and being together. Team members start to trust each other.
  • Performing: The most productive stage of the team. Everyone knows each other, and support is at the highest degree.
  • Adjourning: The work is finished, and the team adjourns.

The critical moments in teams are when a new one joins the team, or if the whole team is formed recently. An affiliative leader’s team-building skills will play a significant role in minimizing conflicts and reaching the maximum performance level. You can apply situational leadership as well depending on the different cases.

3- Stressful Times

There are several cases where a team can go through a stressful time. For instance, mergers, acquisitions, layoffs, department merges, etc are all examples of cases where the team can feel stressed. These are the times when the team and environment are changing, and the changes are always skeptical for employees.

As the affiliative leadership style focuses on the emotional needs of the people, this can help the team to navigate through the change smoothly. You can consider applying this leadership style through tough times or particularly on specific team members if they have personal issues in their lives.

Benefits and Flaws of Affiliative Leadership Style

As in all types of leadership, affiliative leadership style has its benefits and flaws as well.

Top 3 Benefits of the Affiliative Leadership Style

  • Improves performance: As the affiliative leader focuses on the self-interests and emotional needs of the individuals, this increases the morale and motivation of the team. Therefore, better outputs are produced.
  • Creates effective teams:¬†Trust and emotional connections are top priorities in the affiliative leadership style. As the team members communicate and share with each other personally, this creates strong bonds among the team members. As a result, a more collaborative team is formed.
  • Resolves conflicts quickly:¬†Conflicts can hamper interpersonal relations. Therefore, a win-win resolution should be reached if possible. If not, the affiliative leader should find the optimum solution that addresses the emotional needs of the majority of the team.

Top 3 Flaws of the Affiliative Leadership Style

  • Avoids negative feedback:¬†The affiliative leadership style focuses on the emotional needs of the team. Therefore, goals and objectives are at second priority and if there are things that need to be given to the people as feedback, affiliative leadership can neglect this. This can cause delays, underperformance, and missing targets.
  • Difficult to apply in big teams:¬†The affiliative leadership style can work on small teams as it will be easy to focus on each individual’s emotional teams. However, in big teams, it is not feasible and practical to focus on the self-interests of individuals.
  • It may be insufficient for radical changes: Sometimes companies need to make big, bold changes, such as in the period after a merger or acquisition. Affiliative leaders may not always be able to marshal the support for such changes due to a more deliberative style of leadership. When big changes need to happen in a short period, autocratic leadership may work better.


The affiliative leadership style focuses on the emotional needs and self-interest of the people. People come first in this leadership style and affiliative leader seeks a positive environment, collaboration, and emotionally satisfied team members.

The top five traits of the affiliative leadership style are communication, trust, encouragement, positivity, and conflict management. The benefits of this leadership style are improving performance, creating effective teams, and resolving conflicts quickly.

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