The Affiliative (Counselor) Leadership Style

by Christian Haller on April 25, 2011

The Affiliative (Counselor) Leader is all about the people.  These leaders value individuals and their emotions more than tasks and goals – often causing serious conflicts with leaders of differing primary styles.  The affiliative leader strives to keep followers happy and to create harmony among them. He leads by building strong emotional bonds and then reaping the bene­fits through fierce loyalty.

The Affiliative Style has a markedly positive effect on commu­nication. People who like one another a lot talk a lot and spread the emotional contagion throughout the group. They share ideas and inspiration. Another benefit is that the Affiliative Leader builds trust with and between group members, with all the benefits that entails in the areas of high performance and (coupled with a visionary leader or visionary leadership style) innovation.  Flexi­bility also rises because the affiliative leader, like a parent who adjusts household rules for a maturing adolescent, doesn’t impose unnecessary strictures on how employees get their work done. They give people the freedom to do their job in the way they think is most effective, contributing substantially to the group self-esteem.

One way Affiliative Leaders raise trust and rapport is by substantial posi­tive feedback, often for even minor accomplishments. Such feedback has special effect because it is far too rare, few people get positive feedback on their day-to-day efforts—or only nega­tive feedback.

Affiliative Leaders are masters at building a sense of belonging. They are natural relationship builders. They will bring in a cake to celebrate a group accomplishment. Always celebrate birthdays with followers.  Never forget an important holiday.  And likely to take their direct reports out for a meal or a drink, one-on-one, to see how they’re doing (in the case of a woman and man, regardless of who is the leader, this technique more often than  not is misinterpreted given the powerful evolutionary behavior wired into all men and women).

Despite its benefits, the affiliative style should never be used alone. Its exclusive focus on praise and relationship building typically allows poor performance and underachievement to go uncorrected; followers perceive that mediocrity is tolerated. And because affiliative leaders rarely offer constructive advice on how to improve, followers must figure out how to do so on their own. When people need clear directives to navigate through complex chal­lenges, the affiliative style leaves them rudderless to the extent that if overly relied on, can actually steer a group to failure. This is why the affiliative style is best closely coupled with the Authoritarian/Visionary leadership style (either in a single leader or in partnership).

The Affiliatives style generally positive impact makes it a good all-around choice, but it is particularly effective building team harmony, increasing morale, improving commu­nication, or repairing broken trust.

The Affiliative style is one area where empathy is part and parcel to the style.  On the other hand, there are four levels of empathic connection, and the best Affiliative leaders have mastered them all, but most have not.  Affiliatives who have not mastered empathy often come across as manipulative.  Likewise, intent matters.  Master Affiliatives have the external intent of bringing the group together with no other defined goal.  Ironically, when the Affiliatives’ intent is to bring the group together to accomplish a task, the feeling of manipulation is most strong.

From an ELT standpoint, groups that cooperated.  Like the democratic style, the affiliative style exists because cooperative groups survived. We are inclined to be social.

Because they are so out there with others, Affiliatives are particularly likely to suffer at the hands of their own success.  Affiliatives live to improve relationships and avoid conflict, often in response to childhood experiences.  Evolutionarily, there is no market for the affiliative when there is no conflict, and therefore many Affiliatives find themselves surrounded by people that need help – often there is no one to help the Affiliative grow, and the Affiliative can grow weary of difficult people in their lives. In a related way, Affiliatives with healthy personal relationships often let them suffer (because the relationship is positive) rather than using their skills to take their own personal relationships to the next level. Affiliatives are also subject to manipulation more than other leaders because they will do most anything for relationships to improve.

The Affiliative must always fight the tendancy to put themselve’s last.


Reading Body Language April 25, 2011 at 09:55

Being there for your team is important but it’s also important to be firm with difficult people.

Trisha April 25, 2011 at 10:28

I’m a little like this style of leader…..but only a bit.

Steve C April 25, 2011 at 10:30

The best leadership style is a combination of all the styles you’ve so brilliantly analyzed.

Steve C

Kevin Hogan April 25, 2011 at 10:33

The closing sentence is so ….right.
Excellent analysis of “The Affiliative.”

Kevin Bettencourt April 25, 2011 at 20:39

This type of leader needn’t be a management position. This leader can rise from the ranks. The key as the company leader is to promote this from one you see has these qualities.

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Sonya Lenzo April 25, 2011 at 21:46

The Affiliative by itself seems to be one that has many pitfalls…but like a good recipe, a touch of it could leaven all the others.
Sonya Lenzo

Jennifer Battaglino April 25, 2011 at 23:01

I like how you outline each leadership style so hopefully people will incorporate all the styles to come up with a more efficient and effective hybrid.
Jennifer Battaglino
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Neil Dhawan April 26, 2011 at 00:33

These posts get more and more interesting. I am really enjoying learning about the different leadership styles – their pros and cons. Would it be fair to say that, with the styles identified thus far, that the Affiliatives are the weakest?


Scott Sylvan Bell April 26, 2011 at 00:46

The way that you have weaved the story of leadership is impressive. Thanks for another fantastic article on leadership.
Scott Sylvan Bell
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Clare Delaney-Young April 26, 2011 at 00:55

It’s really interesting to learn about these different leadership styles and their pros and cons.

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Craigslist Date Murder Impact April 26, 2011 at 03:19

Hi Christian,

Is it a productive leadership style?

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April Braswell
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John Moulder April 26, 2011 at 08:46

Like Clare , I find these posts interesting .

Dewayne Chriswell April 26, 2011 at 10:15

I had a statistics professor who used the Affiliative style of leadership in his classroom to help break people out of their math phobias, (It’s stats for crying out loud, how much more intimidating can it be?) A great leader, but an even better teacher…
Dewayne Chriswell

Kevin Hogan April 26, 2011 at 11:51

The Affiliative …puts themselves last.
A good leader to be sure, but not for every situation…

Kevin Bettencourt April 26, 2011 at 17:18

Is it safe to say that most leaders are dominant in one of these categories with touches of of the others?

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bryan April 26, 2011 at 21:33

I like to see all the different perspectives on leadership…

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Michael April 27, 2011 at 01:36

How many styles are there of leadership? i think there are as many as there are people.

Michael D Walker April 27, 2011 at 03:01

What a great explanation of yet another leadership style.


Scott Sylvan Bell April 27, 2011 at 03:25

The affilitive leader does have some great stong points but can find some of the weaknesses challenging like trying to make too many people happy.
Scott Sylvan Bell
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Dewayne Chriswell April 27, 2011 at 08:32

Not to be too Mary Poppins, but the affiliative style is the “spoon full of sugar” of the leadership styles. Not too much, not too little, just enough to be effective.
Dewayne Chriswell

Eva Palmer April 27, 2011 at 16:59

It is very interesting to see all the possible ways to be a leader and learn from all of them.

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