Help, there’s a flood in the library! Leadership styles for every situation

What is your leadership style? Maybe you are a coercive, “my way or the highway” type of leader, or perhaps you are more of an authoritative leader, enthusiastic with a very clear vision of what you want your organization to accomplish.  Or maybe you have no idea what type of leader you are! That’s okay, because we are going to take a look at six different leadership styles, and talk about why you might want to consider utilizing all six leadership styles at some point depending on the situation.

In March of 2000, “Leadership That Gets Results” by Daniel Goleman was published in the Harvard Business Review.  In this article, Goleman identified six leadership styles, situations where they proved to be effective, and their overall impact on the climate of an organization. Here are the six styles and an idea of what they are in a nutshell:

1) Coercive style: My way or the highway! Listen to what I say and do it!

2) Authoritative style: I am excited and pumped up! Here is my vision of what we are going to do.  Am I being clear? Great, here’s the goal.  You have the freedom to do what you need to do to get us there…let’s just get it done!

3) Affiliative style: Let’s talk.  How are things going? We really need to go out to lunch this week.  What a great accomplishment…let’s get a cake and celebrate!

4) Democratic style: Here is the problem.  How do you guys think we should solve it? Let’s meet about this until we come to a consensus.

5) Pacesetting style: I am the best and the brightest.  You need to keep up and do things as well as I do.  Not getting it? *Sigh* Here, let me take it over.

6) Coaching style: Let’s work closely together to develop your skills and abilities.  Don’t worry about failing at that task, as you will learn from it and I will guide you to do better next time.

Any idea what the best leadership style might be according to Goleman? Well, four of the styles have a positive impact on an organization’s climate: authoritative, affiliative, democratic, and coaching.  The authoritative style is the most strongly positive.  As I am sure your probably guessed, the coercive and pacesetting styles have a negative impact. So, we should all adopt authoritative styles and our libraries will run extremely efficiently, right? As Lee Corso might say, “Not so fast my friends!”

According to Goleman, the most effective leaders combine two or more of the positive impact leadership styles, as each style has weaknesses.  For example, the affiliative style is great for motivating people in stressful situations, but it is ineffective in that it often gives individuals the impression that they can get away with average and even poor performance. And in certain situations, those negative impact leadership styles might be extremely effective.  For example, if you are experiencing an emergency at your library, like a flood in your Children’s department (of this I can speak from experience), the coercive style is the only way to go.

Goleman explains how Joe Torre combined the affiliative and authoritative leadership styles to become one of baseball's great managers.

I highly recommend reading Goleman’s complete article here.  In addition to providing detailed explanations on the six leadership styles discussed above, he also writes about how you can go about expanding your leadership style repertoire.

Photo credits: doverlibrarians and mrjerz


Hi, I’m Ryan Livergood. I am the Executive Director of the Warren-Newport Public Library. I was previously the Director of Libraries in Arlington, Massachusetts, Assistant Director of the Dover Town Library in Dover, Massachusetts (a Library Journal finalist for “Best Small Library in America”), and I got my start in public librarianship with the Miami-Dade Public Library System. I also spent time in the Library Automation field with Sirsi Corporation (now SirsiDynix). Other positions I have had include teaching English in China and serving in the Peace Corps. I received my MLIS from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. My wonderful family consists of the best wife on the planet, my two young sons, and a mostly lovable cat. I love sports, especially college basketball and football. I also love to travel, watch great films, and enjoy amazing meals with a nice glass of red wine or a craft beer. Oh, I love reading too, but I’m a librarian, so you kind of knew that already, right?

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