The Pacesetting Style
At first blush, the Pacesetting (Drill Instructor) leadership style seems like win-win. The foundation of the pacesetting style sound great – the leader sets extremely high performance standards and exemplifies them himself. He is obsessive about doing things better and faster (never satisfied with the status quo), and he asks the same of everyone around him. He is intolerant of poor performers and demanding more from them – and if improvements are not forthcoming, terminates them. Who wouldn’t want constantly improving performance from a highly skilled team?
The Pacesetter/Drill Instructor approach can work when all followers are self-motivated, highly competent, and need little direction or coordination— and it a common approach with a team of technical leaders and lawyers. When intent and empathy are in place, the Pacesetter will achieve seriously impressive results in a short period of time. The intent of the drill instructor must be to bring out the best in the team members – for them to achieve to their full potential, as opposed to the leaders obsessive drive with perfection or a monetary reward. The internal versus external intent will continue to play a role in the effectiveness of each leadership style. As for the empathy element, an effective pacesetter leader must have a connection with each team member to understand their goals and passions to bring out the best in them – or else risks the perception of attempting to mold others into his own vision of himself – or what he believes the followers should be. The empathy-less pacesetter also fails to ignore – and react – to team stress from increasingly rising demands.
In my experience, the pacesetter more often than not destroys the team climate and the individuals rarely rise to the occasion. Employees often feel overwhelmed by the pacesetter’s demands for excellence, and their morale drops. If the follower is not in their ideal job, pushing them to rise to an occasion just isn’t going to work. Likewise, driving them to rise to the pacesetters dreams, will also fail. Pacesetting will not work unless the leader has established alignment around a common goal – and pacesetters are not good at getting alignment.
Another common negative trend of pacesetters is that they have all the guidelines and plan in their head, but fail to communicate them clearly. They expect others to know what to do and how to do it. I often see pacesetters state, “If I have to tell them what to do, they are not qualified for the job.” In this case, followers of the pacesetter must guess the path forward and cannot expect much help or coaching from their leader. One result is that followers often feel that the pacesetter doesn’t trust them to work in their own way or to take initiative. Flexibility and responsibility evaporate; work becomes so task focused and routinized it’s boring and the stress to perform destroys morale.
Worse, the pacesetter either gives no feedback on how people are doing or jumps in to take over when he thinks they’re lagging. You’ll see pacesetters working late into the night, every night, complaining they have to first do everyone else’s work, and then do their own work at night.
ELT, of course, has roots in the pacesetter/drill instructor style. Survival strategies of the past, such as the proverbial attack from a rival tribe or the neighborhood lion, required a well trained group of individuals to survive. And so, tribes that included a pacesetting approach were more likely to live for another day.