Affiliative Leadership: Using The People First Approach To Enhance Team Performance

Affiliative Leadership: Using The People First Approach To Enhance Team Performance

Mar 04, 20224 mins
What Is Affiliative Leadership?

Employee happiness and satisfaction are directly correlated with productivity. According to research by Oxford’s Saïd Business School, employee happiness increases productivity by 13%. Conversely, unhappy, disengaged employees are more likely to engage in unproductive work behavior, such as tardiness, absenteeism, and sabotage.

So then, how do you promote employee happiness and satisfaction?

One way to do that is to adopt an affiliative leadership style, which focuses on creating harmonious relationships at the workplace and promoting emotional well-being.

This guide will help you understand affiliative leadership, its benefits and drawbacks, and how to become an effective affiliate leader.

What Is Affiliative Leadership?

Affiliative leadership is a leadership style that takes a people-first approach. It focuses on creating a sense of community and trust by building personal bonds between team members. Affiliative leadership also focuses on resolving conflicts between team members to create and sustain a peaceful workplace environment.

Affiliate leaders understand that success is more than simply achieving workplace goals. They consider a team to be successful when it meets its goals without compromising on team members' physical and emotional well-being.

Characteristics of Affiliative Leadership

Some of the characteristics that define the affiliative leadership style include:

  • Strong people focus: People are an affiliative leader’s top priority. The affiliative leader focuses on connecting with their team members at a personal level and ensuring their emotional needs are met.

  • Strong moral values: Affiliative leaders have strong moral values and work to cultivate the same in their team members. They do not place their team members in situations that are likely to compromise their morals and ethics.

  • Constructive feedback: Instead of tearing people down, affiliative leaders prefer positive feedback and constructive criticism that will help their direct reports improve their performance. They don’t just point at what is wrong. They provide suggestions for improvement.

  • Participative dialog: For affiliative leaders, communication is not a one-way affair. They provide multiple communication channels for employee input and feedback. This approach allows everyone to share their ideas and facilitates conflict resolution.

  • Flexibility: Affiliative leadership creates a high level of trust and communication. There’s no need for strict structures and micromanagement. This results in a culture that promotes flexibility, with employees free to do things their own way, so long as they do their part.

Affiliative Leadership Example

One of the best examples of affiliative leaders is Joe Torre, the New York Yankees coach during the 1999 World Series. The race was taking a toll on his players’ psyches, threatening their chances of winning the title. Here are some of the things Joe did to help his team pull through and become the champions.

  • Joe opened up to his players about his battle with cancer. Showing his own vulnerability helped him build trust with the players.

  • During the team’s celebration party, Joe gave special praise to two team members who had remained committed to the team even after losing their parents during the season.

  • On numerous occasions, Joe reminded his players how their efforts had contributed to the team's success.

All these actions helped build an environment of trust and genuine care within the team and ultimately played a huge role in helping them win the title.

Benefits of Affiliative Leadership

Affiliative leadership offers several benefits. Some of them include:

Builds Close-Knit Teams

Affiliative leadership builds a strong sense of togetherness and camaraderie by fostering close relationships between team members. 

Everyone in the team cares about the well-being of other team members, and it’s easier for everyone to rally together to achieve team goals. When a team member cannot do their part, other members can easily step in for them.

Boosts Employee Morale

In affiliative teams, every employee knows that their contribution is valued and that they are vital to the team. They also have the freedom and autonomy to do things their own way. This boosts employees’ desire to perform well in their roles, increasing productivity. It also increases job satisfaction and can lead to lower employee turnover.

Empowers Employees

Affiliative leaders don’t micromanage their employees. They trust their employees to do what is required of them and give them the autonomy to make their own decisions. This empowerment unlocks employees’ potential, allowing them to make bigger contributions to the organization.

Boosts Team Communication

An affiliative leadership style encourages employees to communicate and share ideas, both with each other and with the team leader. This creates avenues for the team to come up with new, creative ideas. It also makes it easier for the team to identify potential problems and find ways to solve them.

Reduces Workplace Stress

Some leaders only care about results, regardless of the toll on their employees. Unfortunately, this leads to workplace stress, burnout, and a high employee turnover.

Affiliative leaders, on the other hand, understand that results are not mutually exclusive with well-being. They ensure that every employee’s needs are taken care of and that employees don’t get pushed to the edge in pursuit of results. This results in reduced workplace stress and increased productivity.‍

Disadvantages of Affiliative Leadership

Despite its advantages, affiliative leadership is not without its downsides. Here are some of the potential disadvantages of affiliative leadership:

Poor Performance Could Get Overlooked

In their desire to ensure harmonious relationships within the team, affiliative leaders can sometimes overlook instances of poor performance. Unfortunately, this could signal to other team members that poor performance is acceptable, leading to decreased performance within the whole team.

As an affiliative leader, it’s important to be honest with your employees and let them know when they are slacking.


Affiliative leaders focus more on providing positive feedback rather than criticizing. Unfortunately, this can create the notion that everything is going well. Employees become complacent and stop striving to improve their performance.

To avoid this, affiliative leaders should intersperse positive criticism with some constructive criticism. If you feel there are places where someone can improve, don’t hesitate to let them know.

Sources of Conflict May Be Left Unaddressed

Affiliative leaders are known for being quick to resolve conflict. However, in their desire to quickly restore the harmonious relationships between team members, they could resolve the conflict without addressing the root cause. Unfortunately, such issues don’t go away, so this basically postpones the conflict to a later date.

How to Become an Effective Affiliative Leader

Below are some tips to help you cultivate an affiliative leadership style and boost your team’s happiness, well-being, and productivity.

Build Personal Relationships with Your Team

Affiliative leadership is based on building harmonious relationships with your team, so you have to start by connecting with every team member on a personal level. Don’t just consider what they bring to the workplace. Show that you care about them at a personal level.

You can easily do this by asking how they are doing, asking about their families, showing interest in what is happening in their lives, remembering their birthdays, and so on.

However, don’t just do this for show. You should do this from a point of genuine concern and empathy. 

For instance, if an employee is grieving, don’t just give your condolences and then insist that they have to work because that’s what company policy says. Instead, you can allow them to take some time off to grieve. This shows that you actually care about their well-being.

Give Them Autonomy

One way to show your team that you trust them is to give them the autonomy and flexibility to do things their own way. For instance, you could give them flexible work hours or allow them to work from home on certain days.

Of course, you have to make it clear that this is only applicable on the grounds that they don’t compromise their work. Even when you give them such flexibility, follow up regularly to ensure that everyone is playing their part.

Give Constructive Criticism

Regularly check in with your team members and give them feedback on their work. Don’t just focus on positive feedback. Remember, the aim is to help your team improve their performance. 

If an employee is underperforming, make sure to address their shortcoming, but do so in a way that emphasizes improvement, not the underperformance.

Recognize Your Employees' Efforts

As an affiliative leader, you should be ready to praise your employees for their effort and accomplishments. Let them know that you appreciate their contribution to the team. This will motivate them to do more and make them more confident in themselves and their abilities.

Other Leadership Styles

Affiliative leadership is one of the six leadership styles described by Daniel Goleman based on his three-year study of over 3,000 middle managers. The other five leadership styles are:

  • Visionary leadership style: Also referred to as authoritative leadership style, this type of leadership focuses on mobilizing a team towards an ultimate goal. It doesn’t dictate how the vision is achieved, so long as the team gets there.

  • Coaching leadership style: Here, the leader focuses on helping the team develop themselves and achieve personal excellence instead of just meeting work-related goals.

  • Democratic leadership style: Also known as participative leadership, the democratic leadership style prioritizes input from all team members. Decisions are made through consensus. This creates flexible and collaborative workplaces, but at the expense of a lengthy decision-making process.

  • Pacesetting leadership style: Here, the leader guides their team by setting a good example for them to follow.

  • Coercive leadership style: Sometimes referred to as commanding or directive leadership, this style demands immediate compliance from your team. This approach works best when dealing with difficult employees or during a crisis.

Wrapping Up: Is Affiliative Leadership Right for Me?

Adopting the affiliative leadership style is a great way to enhance teamwork at the workplace, improve your employees' well-being and job satisfaction, and boost productivity.

However it’s good to note that no single leadership style is appropriate for all situations and circumstances. To be an effective leader, you should learn the different leadership styles and build the flexibility to appropriately apply whatever style is right for each unique situation.

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