Pacesetting  Leadership Style

Pacesetting Leadership Style

An executive coach, during a coaching session with senior leaders, asked them their leadership style, while emphasising the fact that this has the power to make or break the success of an organisation. Daniel Goleman, the father of 'Emotional Intelligence', proposed six leadership styles in his book 'Primal Leadership' (2002). These styles are neither right nor wrong, and on the basis of the context, any of them may be suitable.


The six leadership styles identified by Goleman are:


Visionary: This style is most suitable when an organisation needs a new direction.

Coaching: This one-on-one style focuses on developing individuals, showcasing them to improve their performance, and helping them to connect with individual and organisational goals.


Affiliative: This style accentuates the importance of teamwork, and helps create harmony in a group by building interpersonal relationships.


Pacesetting: In this style, the leader sets a high-performance benchmark. He or she is obsessive about doing things better and faster and expects the same from others.


Democratic: This style appeals to people's knowledge and skills, and creates a group commitment to the resulting goals.

Commanding: This is the classic model of the military style of leadership, probably the one used most often, but least effective.


Each of these styles has a place, and the object of leadership development is to provide the leader with versatile skills. Using these skills, they can choose an appropriate style for each situation, and switch between them whilst staying authentic and true to their values and principles.


“Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric is an example of a successful pacesetter. As a leader, Welch despised micro-managing and needed thought leaders to focus more on setting examples and deadlines.”

Each of the leadership styles can be matched with a stage and phase of a project. This is a revealing generalisation and is the privilege of an employee as to which style he or she adopts in each phase. These styles affect the organisational climate and culture since commitment by the leadership and management directly translate to employee commitment, responsibility, task, goal orientation, and clarity of purpose. The ability to adapt to different leadership styles as needed is one of the key traits of a successful manager, as it increases motivation among employees and also ensures that the tasks are accomplished.

The essence of pacesetting


Goleman, in his theory of emotional intelligence, has illustrated the pacesetting style of leadership. Pacesetting leadership style is deployed when a team is highly motivated and competent. This team may find the high standards challenging and exciting, needing little direction or coordination while trying to accomplish its goals. However, a constant enhancement in objectives previously met may leave the team drained and unmotivated from continuing further. It is perceived that a pacesetting leadership style destroys the organisational climate. Many employees feel overwhelmed by the pacesetter's demands for excellence, leading to a drop in their morale. The parameters for working may be clear from the leader's side, but he makes sure that the message is loud and clear. The leader expects employees to know what to do and even think. For instance, the leader may say, "If I have to tell you, you are the wrong person for the job."


A leader with a pacesetting leadership style illustrates high standards for performance. Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, is an example of a successful pacesetter. As a leader, Welch despised micro-managing and needed thought leaders to focus more on setting examples and deadlines. That is the essence of a pacesetting leader. Such a leader is obsessive about doing things faster and better. They are prone to ask other team members to perform the task likewise. These are leaders who demand more from poor performers as well. They instruct the members by assigning responsibilities or tasks if the members are not performing well. They show slight empathy towards poor performers. Leaders who possess such a leadership style seek coordination with the members when they believe there is an impact on an immediate task. To seek development in the assigned task, leaders with a pacesetting leadership style show the members how to perform the assigned project. In order to grow as a leader, the pacesetters should often seek feedback from the team members, and provide them with the appropriate workspace. Instead of focusing on deadlines, they should focus on the process of attaining high quality output. The main drawback of such a leadership style is that the leadership becomes too predictable.


“Under the command of a pacesetting leader, there is a decline in employee commitment because members lack a sense of how their personal efforts fit into the big picture.”


The pacesetting style is effective when employees are highly motivated and competent and well-versed with their jobs. They need little coordination and direction. They are individual contributors. They demand quick results, for instance, as in a do or die situation. Pacesetting is least effective when a leader is unable to complete his or her work. An employee-requisite vision, individual development, and co-ordination among other team members and themselves are some key qualities expected of the leader. Employees look for a trustworthy relationship where they can influence how they deliver the objectives. Employees expect that the leader looks at them as individuals, not as a means to get things done. With reduced flexibility and responsibility, the assigned work becomes task-focused and monotonous, which leads to a lack of motivation. As for rewards, the pacesetter does not provide feedback on how the members of the team are performing, or attempt to take over when the leader thinks that the members are not up to the expected performing pace. When it comes to a situation that the leader has to leave, the members become directionless. In other words, they are highly dependent on their leader to provide them with hindsight. Under the command of a pacesetting leader, there is a decline in employee commitment, because members lack a sense of how their personal efforts fit into the big picture.


A leader should adapt a pacesetting style of leadership when one would develop his or her professional or technical expertise. The leader can lead by example, and be a model of behaviour one wishes to perceive. When a team member needs backing, a leader needs to instruct them on how one should handle the situation, and all possible obstacles must be foreseen, as also the ways of overcoming them. It needs to be explained to the team member exactly what they need to do in those circumstances. A leader should turn down the pacesetting style of leadership when he or she is introspecting on how it feels when a task is led by themselves. The pacesetter should ask others on how they feel when they are led by the leader and collect feedback. Being an expert in the field, the leader must resist answering queries which are brought by the members of the team. Instead, the leader should ask their opinion on the strategy which is helping the team to achieve the task. The leader should keep in mind that there are alternative answers to each query. Support initiated by the leader will help the members to come with their own insights. Unleash the idea that you are the only one who can do things in an expected framework. A leader should acknowledge the members' insight instead of waiting for them to build an opinion, so that he or she can later bombard them with his or her comprehensions.


Effective leaders have to "bait the hook to suit the fish" or assess each situation to be flexible enough to meet certain goals. Leadership is a discipline that is always dynamic. To remain effective, you must evolve. The one-size-fits-all leadership approach is a thing of the past - flexibility and adaptability is now the key. Leadership in business is the capacity of a company's management to set and achieve challenging goals, take prompt decisions when necessary, surpass the competition, and inspire others to perform at the highest possible level. Leadership provides an organisation and its employees with an understanding. Employees need to recognise the direction in which the organisation is directed towards, and whom to follow to reach the goal. Leadership involves showing workers how to efficiently perform their responsibilities and regularly supervise the completion of the tasks. Leadership also helps in showcasing positive examples for employees to follow, by being excited about the work, being highly motivated to acquire new knowledge and ideas, and helping the goals at an individual and group level.

Dr Manavi Pathak is an Organisational Psychologist and Consultant.


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