The Affiliative (Counselor) Leadership Style

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.