What is Affiliative Leadership? The “People First” Approach

If the affiliative leader could be described in one word, it would be harmonious. These individuals portray their leadership traits through promoting harmony and conflict resolution among teams. Their goal is to build groups that work well together in accomplishing the objectives set forth by the organization. However, their motivation is not just concerned with meeting performance standards, but they have a genuine interest in making sure that co-workers feel connected to one another. This style of leadership is favorable to employees. Many times, these leaders are brought in to inspire team building and to build employee morale.

Part 1

Traits and Principles of Affiliative Leaders

Affiliative Leadership is considered to be one of the six emotional leadership styles. This method along with visionary, coaching, democratic, commanding, and pacesetting directly impacts the emotions of workers. The popular traits of this style promote emotional ties between workers and their employees.

What is affiliative leadership?

Affiliative leadership style is a type of leadership that emphasizes relationships and collaboration between leaders and their teams. It is based on building trust and creating a strong sense of loyalty and security among employees. This leadership style is characterized by positive reinforcement and encouragement, as well as an active listening approach. The aim of the affiliative leader is to foster a sense of team unity, open communication, and mutual respect between the leader and their team. This style of leadership encourages team members to work together and to build relationships with each other. It also encourages open communication and a sense of safety in the workplace.

What are the characteristics of affiliative leadership?

  1. Focused on Conflict Resolution

    This is a mutual leadership style that is all about healing rifts and getting rid of animosity. They make the emotional needs of workers a priority and work to prevent conflict among teams.

  2. Praise is Critical

    Affiliative leaders lavish a lot of praise on their workers. They provide support and encouraging feedback. While it makes workers feel appreciated, it could cause workers to slack off and feel they can get away with unfavorable behavior.

  3. Other’s Awareness

    Leaders that subscribe to this style have a dedicated knowledge of the emotions and well-being of others. To help connect individuals and understand their needs, leaders have to be adept at reading emotions.

  4. Flexibility

    For these leaders to gain favorability with workers, they usually allow flexibility of culture and work arrangements to appease employees and build trust.

  5. A Belief in Freedom

    This leadership style promotes freedom of creativity and innovation. It shares this trait with visionary leadership. Workers are empowered to create ideas and collaborate with their fellow employees to solve work problems.

  6. Resilience

    Affiliative leaders are typically brought in to unite teams after a stressful or traumatic event has occurred at the workplace that impacted an entire workforce. To undertake this, leaders have to withstand turbulent times of transition and change. They also have to be ready to deal with the emotional ups and downs of the team as they regroup.

  7. Empathetic Communication

    This leadership style is not authoritative or demanding in conversations with employees. Affiliative leaders always focus on the positive and take the feelings of employees into account when discussing feedback.


Where is affiliative leadership used?

Affiliative leadership is a valuable tool that can be applied in many different contexts. Some examples include:

  • in corporate settings, where it can help increase employee engagement and morale;
  • in healthcare sector, to create a more supportive and unified work culture;
  • in educational settings, where it can help foster a sense of collaboration and camaraderie among students and educators;
  • in creative settings and businesses, to increase creativity and improve decision making.

What is the affiliative leadership theory?

The affiliative leadership theory was developed by Edmondson and colleagues in the early 2000s and is based on the idea of creating strong relationships with team members in order to increase motivation and productivity. According to the affiliative leadership teory, leaders who adopt this style prioritize team harmony over individual achievement, promoting collaboration and providing support for team members in order to reach common goals.

Why is affiliative leadership important?

The Importance of Affiliative Leadership

According to a 2014 Career Builder Survey, 54 percent of respondents stayed at their current jobs because they liked the people they worked with. This was the top reason many workers chose to stay. Thirty-two percent of respondents stayed because they felt they had a good boss that watched out for them, the seventh top choice.

This information shows that workers greatly value the individuals they work with, and affiliative leaders tap into this desire by facilitating trusting employee relationships. It is essential that executives and business leaders know when to bring in someone with this leadership style. If a company’s workers are experiencing low morale or if a conflict has taken over the organization, then an affiliative leader might be the best choice to unite teams.

Part 2

Qualities of an Affiliative Leader

Who are affiliative leaders?

  • At their core, affiliative leaders are nurturing.
  • They care about what their workers think about them, and these leaders always do their best to take their interest and emotions into account.
  • Many times, situations that have led to the arrival or rise of an affiliative leader are emotionally charged due to a stressful event. Therefore, these leaders bring with them a perspective that promotes unity and emotional harmony.
  • However, these individuals are not all about soft skills. They do have to become comfortable functioning in uncomfortable situations that led teams to disarray. There is not an emphasis on vision or direction, but only on the well-being of employees.
  • Affiliative leaders are those who prioritize creating strong, meaningful relationships with their team members.
  • They are focused on providing support and understanding to their team, often placing a greater emphasis on team cohesion and collective success than individual accomplishments.
  • In addition to encouraging collaboration and group action, affiliative leaders also strive to create an environment of trust and safety, where team members feel empowered to take risks and try new things.
  • By fostering an atmosphere of acceptance, these leaders help to ensure that everyone within the team can reach their potential.
  • Affiliative leaders are willing to compromise in order to create solutions that are beneficial to the team as a whole.

How to develop affiliative leadership style?

To develop this style of leadership, it is important to:

  • Prioritize the well-being of your employees;
  • Foster a supportive, trusting environment, establish mutual respect;
  • Recognize and celebrate successes;
  • Prioritize employee feedback, as well as provide feedback;
  • Provide clear communication between all members of the team;
  • Provide opportunities for professional development;
  • Encourage collaboration between team members, instead of competitiveness;
  • Strive to create a warm and collaborative workplace by showing appreciation for team members’ contributions.

How to improve affiliative leadership style?

In order for affiliative leadership to be successful, leaders must be able to connect with their team members on a personal level and be able to build trust and respect. This is the area to focus on in a form of coaching or personal development programs and books. Additionally, read our section below on affiliative leadership best practices.

Part 3

Advantages of Affiliative Leaders

Why do we use affiliative leadership?

We use affiliative leadership because it encourages communication, builds trust, and strengthens relationships. It has been proven to be effective in increasing employee morale, loyalty, and productivity. Affiliative leadership promotes creativity and innovation in the workplace as it encourages employees to work together to find solutions that benefit everyone. This type of leadership has been shown to be beneficial for both employers and employees, making it an invaluable tool in any organization.
Advantages of affiliative leadership style include:

  • Increase in Employee Trust
    Referring to a previously mentioned statistic, workers stay for bosses who have their backs. The traits of affiliative leaders will naturally create trust with employees. Positive gestures and opportunities for nurturing feedback will make employees feel like they can be open.
  • Tighter-Knit Teams
    The ultimate goal of these leaders is to create collaborative organizations that work in unity and harmony with one another. Their “people first” approach should accomplish this and produce workers who are equipped to work together.
  • Higher Employee Morale
    This leadership style promotes freedom, flexibility, and creative ideas. If workers are allowed to have autonomy, then it will likely lead to a higher level of employee morale. According to a recent survey, 17 percent of employees enjoy working for smaller businesses because they feel their input matters. Employees want to be in environments where their work is meaningful, and affiliative leaders make this a priority.
  • A Direction in Times of Stress
    Much like charismatic leaders, affiliative leaders are brought in to guide teams through times of crisis and transition. If a company’s culture has been unsettled by layoffs, mergers, or other highly chaotic events, then affiliative leaders can provide the nurturing hand that gets workers through it.
  • Increased Autonomy
    Affiliative leaders are more hands-off than their counterparts. Much of the development and decisions are driven by the employees themselves. They are not directive or overbearing in how they lead. This will make those who value independent thought satisfied.

When is affiliative leadership best used?

Affiliative leadership style is most beneficial in the following situations:

  1.  When a team needs to come up with creative solutions to a problem;
  2.  Team needs to be motivated;
  3.  Morale is low;
  4.  There is tension among team members.
  5. Also, affiliative type of leadership has been shown to be particularly effective in high-stress situations, such as during a period of organizational change.

Part 4

Disadvantages of Affiliative Leaders

Because of the positive feelings, affiliative leaders likely inspire in their workers; the consensus may be that all of the traits brought by affiliative leaders have better effects on the company. While this may be true in some cases, this is not always the result of this leadership style.

Is affiliative leadership effective?

Affiliative leadership can be effective or not, depending on the situation. This type of leadership can be highly effective in creating an environment of trust and respect among employees, allowing them to work together more efficiently and productively. However, some experts warn that affiliative leadership can be too lenient, leading to a lack of structure in the workplace. Other potential problems include:

  • A Lack of Real Leadership
    Affiliative leaders are more hands-off so they could fail in their attempts to guide teams. This could create stress for employees that need more direction or direct feedback.
  • Complacency
    These leaders are known to be nurturing and caring about creating a positive work environment. In turn, this will make it more likely that affiliative leaders will normally provide positive feedback. As a result, workers may never strive to produce better results or find out how they can improve creating complacency.
  • Unrealistic Dependence
    If affiliative leaders are the emotional backbone of a company, it could drive employees never to develop their tools to deal with chaotic workplace situations. This person may always be looked at as the individual who can fix difficult problems. Additionally, what happens to the progress of conflict resolution when this person leaves?
  • Refusing to Handle Immediate Problems
    What if there are issues that are outside of the scope of an affiliative leader? Could they manage a problematic budget, a product that has failed to catch on with consumers, or another event that is out of their control? They are skilled in working with people, but affiliative leaders could have a tough time answering the call of issues outside of their scope.
  • A Decrease in Performance
    If workers are only receiving positive feedback, they will never learn where they can improve. This behavior will likely decrease performance and productivity. Affiliative leaders might not be able to balance criticism with positive feedback.

By paying close attention to these potential issues, affiliative leaders can make their leadership truly effective: with the right approach affiliative leadership is considered to be extremely beneficial and effective in the long-term.

Part 5

Affiliative Leadership Best Practices

  1. Balance Criticism with Praise

    The personality of an affiliative leader may be more prone to offer positive feedback, but they have to realize the good of the company rests on employees who look for ways to improve and get better. They can still be nurturing and supportive while providing goals for workers to meet.

  2. Provide Conflict Resolution Training

    Affiliative leaders have to recognize that conflict resolution cannot just be their responsibility. It is something that everyone has to take an active interest in. These leaders should focus on training employees and executives on effective conflict resolution techniques. They are not only helping workers solve their problems, but also teaching them to do it themselves.

  3. Deal with Other Issues That Arise

    Team building and employee well-being are both very important, but they are not the only thing affiliative leaders should be concerned about. They should make sure to stay attuned to other internal and external issues that arise to protect employees and the company.

  4. Keep an Eye on Performance

    Whether it is due to leadership or transition or the traits of the affiliative leader, it would make sense to have strategies and plans in place to track performance and productivity. If there has been a decrease in either, then leaders will have a better way of seeing what the cause could be and rectify the issue. Read more: Performance Management: The Definitive Guide

Each leadership style calls for a different approach, and affiliative leaders brought in to bring unity and harmony back to the workplace and encourage workers to do their best. However, this nurturing style can lead to complacency and poor performance if leaders are not careful. So, individuals who subscribe to this style would do well to balance nurture with useful and wisely critical feedback.

How do affiliative leadership and transformational leadership differ?

Affiliative leadership and transformational leadership are two distinct styles of leadership that are used in a variety of different business settings. Affiliative leadership is focused on building relationships, creating harmony, and fostering a sense of community. By contrast, transformational leadership is focused on motivating employees to take risks and achieve ambitious goals. While both styles can be effective, the differences between them can mean that one style may be better suited for certain situations than the other.
Learn more about transformational leadership: What Is Transformational Leadership? (The Benefits and Impact)

What is the difference between transactional and affiliative leadership?

Transactional leadership focuses on the tasks that need to be completed and relies on a give-and-take relationship between the leader and their followers. On the other hand, affiliative leadership is primarily concerned with building relationships between the leader and their followers. This type of leadership emphasizes caring and understanding, open communication, and creating a supportive environment. While transactional leadership is goal-oriented, affiliative leadership is more people-oriented.
Learn more about transactional leadership: What Is Transactional Leadership? (Pros, Cons)

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