Leaders Have More Choices

Want to help your clients make their organizations more profitable? This is the third in a series of four blog posts that provide a model for you to do just that.

Thus far, we’ve examined how an organization’s climate, profitability, and leadership styles relate, as reported by Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee, in Primal Leadership:

  • Companies with positive climates are much more profitable than those with negative climates.
  • Leadership style directly controls 50 – 70% of climate
  • There are a number of learnable leadership styles
  • To maximize leader effectiveness, match leadership style to situational needs.

In our previous post, we described two of the six leadership styles discussed in Primal Leadership: Coercive (or Directive), and Visionary. We looked at:

  • times when each of those styles can work well
  • times when they shouldn’t be used
  • which EQ skills support their success, and
  • the five steps which you, as a coach, can take to help clients select and use the style that best fits the situation.

Now let’s look at two more leadership styles from Primal Leadership: Coaching and Affiliative.

The Coaching Leadership Style: Leaders who coach focus on developing their followers. Basically, they ask their followers, “Where do you want to go?” In other words, rather than making assumptions, these leaders take the time to learn about the goals and interests of each follower. Using that knowledge, the leaders then devote time and energy to helping followers develop the skills and talents needed to reach their goals.

It is time consuming work, which is one reason why many leaders don’t regularly use this leadership style. But the higher in the organization your clients are, the greater the benefit there is to their spending increasing amounts of time devoted to follower development. In fact, many experts believe that CEOs should spend 50% of their time selecting and developing their people.

Coaching followers works well when followers are genuinely invested in their own growth. Such followers can be great employees, because they want to get better and better. Leaders who invest their time with such people get a great payback, as does the organization. Loyalty in particular is strengthened. Think about your own experience when someone showed genuine interest in your growth. You probably felt that you couldn’t ever do enough for them in return.

As you might guess, coaching doesn’t work well with the unmotivated. As an executive coach, you may have found yourself somehow hooked into a coaching relationship which your client didn’t want. Talk about a waste of time and energy! It is the same for leaders who coach. If your clients are considering investing time in coaching followers, help them assess how responsive and invested each follower would be in development.

Another reason many leaders avoid coaching subordinates is that very few leaders know how to coach effectively. In the spring of 2022, I’ll be offering a two hour workshop for readers who want to teach their clients how to coach their direct reports. Please reach out to me if you are interested.

There are five EQ skills that are particularly important for a leader who wants to coach:

  • Emotional Self Awareness: The emotional signals that coach leaders send themselves, and allow themselves to be aware of, provide invaluable information about the coaching situations these leaders are in. Examples: (a) If the coach leader is feeling bored, this may signal that the follower is not engaged. (b) If the coach leader is feeling energized, it likely means that the follower’s engagement is high.

Emotional Self Awareness also helps leaders who coach notice when they are projecting their own feelings on to the follower, rather than tuning in to the follower’s feelings. Typically, this takes the form of assuming the follower has the same goals as the leader. For example, not everyone wants the next promotion. Which brings us to . . .

  • Empathy: Leaders who want to coach must be skilled at tuning in to what the follower really wants. Is the follower highly ambitious, hoping to rise up in the organization? If so, the leader will look for the next challenging role. Alternatively, for followers who are already just where they want to be, at least for now, the leader can help followers make increasingly good use of their skills and talents.
  • Interpersonal Relationships: Research is clear that the most powerful outcome factor in executive coaching is the quality of the relationship between coach and client. The same is true when leaders coach followers. What makes a good relationship? Genuine interest in the follower’s success, non-possessive warmth (caring is not owning), emotional support, particularly when things go wrong, and tactful confrontation, i.e., the ability to have tough conversations without destroying the follower. Which brings us to . . .
  • Assertiveness: Leaders who coach must be able to tell people things they may not want to hear, in ways that are direct yet offer hope, leaving people able to hear and act upon the feedback.
  • Social Responsibility: Good coach leaders give of themselves beyond self-interest. In fact, they may find themselves developing a follower who then takes a role in a different part of the company or even in a different organization all together! Some of my most successful executive clients have been just fine with such outcomes.

How can you help clients who want to coach build these EQ skills? Ready-made exercises can be found in the EQ Leader Program, which includes sixteen sets of field-tested exercises (one set for each of the 16 EQ skills measured by the Emotional Quotient Inventory2.0). These exercises have been used successfully by coaches worldwide. You can buy the entire program if you want to, or you can purchase the exercises separately. Check them out at The EQ Shoppe – EQ Leader, Inc.   Alternatively, you can come up with your own exercises, aimed at helping your clients begin to practice these skills in work situations where warranted, so that these emotionally intelligent behaviors will eventually become their new default responses.

The Affiliative Leadership Style: When using this leadership style, your client will be focused on the importance of the people in their organization. The phrase that best describes this leadership style is “People matter.” Thus, when decisions and policies get made, the impact that they can be expected to have on followers and employees in general is given great weight.

Take this situation, for example. The CEO says, “Our current health insurance coverage is becoming a severe economic drain. What can we do?” Some leaders would simply focus on the dollars saved by different plans. An affiliative leader would care about the dollars, sure, but would also ask lots of questions about what employees might need. Who would be most affected by various changes in coverage? Are there creative solutions that might serve both the company and the employees?

Or, let’s suppose a re-org of a senior leadership team is in order. This can get messy, creating lots of anxiety and hurt feelings. An affiliative leader will consider the impact that such a re-organization might have on careers and feelings. There may still need to be hard decisions made, but instead of just putting out a memo, affiliative leaders will have heartfelt conversations with those who may be negatively affected.

Caring about people is always a good strategy. It is most important in situations where harmony and trust have been broken and are in need of repair. For clients who are stepping into such a situation, suggest that they consider beginning by using an affiliative style. One of my clients took over a highly dysfunctional leadership team that led 800 dispirited employees. His first task was to build relationships with each person on his leadership team, while at the same time helping each person learn about how to perform and deliver.

That last point is essential. The potential downfall of affiliative leadership is that the leader may become so focused on the importance of people that performance problems get overlooked. The leader may misplace trust. If this happens, others in the organization will notice, and will lose faith in your client.

There are four EQ skills that help affiliative leaders succeed:

  • Emotional Self Awareness: Your clients need to attend to their own emotional signals that provide valuable information about interactions with followers. First of all, does your client really care about the followers, or is this a well-meaning façade? If the latter, others will sniff it out in a heartbeat. In this case, you, as your client’s coach, can help your client figure out what is getting in the way of genuine caring. Quite often, it is anxiety over letting people matter in case hard decisions have to be made some day. If that’s the case, you can help your client learn how to balance caring with candor, which again brings us to . . .
  • Assertiveness: Too often, affiliative leaders become pushovers where poor performance is tolerated. It is essential that caring doesn’t sacrifice performance. Example: Carrie really hopes for a promotion. John, her boss, knows that she isn’t ready. A passive approach to caring might be to lead her on, or to give her what she wants and hope for the best. Yuck! An assertive/caring message might sound something like: “Carrie, I know that you are hoping for that promotion. I applaud your ambition! But you may not realize that there are some skills which that level requires that you have not yet developed to a high enough degree. If I were to promote you now, I’d be setting you up for failure. Neither of us wants that! So instead of promoting you now, let’s figure out a plan to build those skills so that when you are promoted, you will have a good chance to succeed.” Your client could then pivot to being a coach for Carrie, which would be an appropriate leadership style in that case.
  • Empathy: This is pretty much a no-brainer, consistent with what makes Empathy important when using the Coaching Leadership Style. Affiliative leaders have to know what matters to their followers before they can communicate caring in a way that is meaningful and is seen as genuine.
  • SelfRegard: Clients who don’t respect, like, and care about themselves have little to offer followers. Someone who walks around wearing a “Kick Me” sign, whose own cup is empty, has little to share, and in fact may be looking for caring from others instead. The value of their caring for their followers is diminished. Followers want to win respect and caring from someone who is seen as strong, not weak.


As mentioned, the EQ Leader Program provides proven ways for coaches to help clients learn and improve their EQ skills, including these four.

In two weeks, our next blog post will discuss the last two of six coaching styles, and talk about how you, as a coach, can help your clients know when and how to use them.

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