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pacesetting leadership style

Pacesetting Leadership: What It Is and When to Use It

Reading time: about 5 min

Posted by: Bradford Davis

In music, resonance occurs when the vibrations of musical instruments are in sync and harmonious. Dissonance, as you can imagine, is the opposite of resonance—when instruments are not in sync, and there is no harmony. I am no musical expert, but I’d wager that instruments sounding well when played together is an important part of the orchestra.

A resonant leader

When I say, “She is a resonant leader,” the word “resonance” carries the same meaning as it does with musical instruments. It refers to the fact that her leadership style is “in sync” with the people she is leading. When a someone leads with resonance, the leader and the team is on the same “emotional wavelength,” and there is less static and friction. Static and friction are the last things any leader wants on his or her team.

In the book “Primal Leadership,” Daniel Goleman breaks down what it takes to be a resonant leader and what attributes you must have in order for your message to ring true to your team. Goleman pulled from a global database of over 3,000 executives to identify common leadership attributes and the effects they have on those under them.

There were six common attributes that he found that created resonance when used correctly and that should be in every leader's repertoire. These attributes are similar to a golfer's bag of clubs. There is a different club to be used in different situations. Professional golfers know which clubs to use in certain situations. They have built up a sense and a feel for it. Similarly, an effective leader knows when and how to use these types of leadership and in which situations. The end goal of all six of these leadership qualities is to create resonance within your team.

The first four styles of leadership are visionary, coaching, affiliative, and democratic. These leadership styles create a strong sense of resonance and should be used on a daily basis, depending on the situation. The other two types of leadership—pacesetting and commanding—should be used cautiously. These two types can create resonance but are often used incorrectly. That’s not to say they are bad, but they should be used carefully and in specific situations. To see a more in-depth look into what these six styles are, how they build resonance, and when they should be used, check out this diagram.

six styles of leadership diagram

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Start-ups and pacesetting

There is a boom happening in Utah right now. New companies, specifically tech companies, are popping up left and right like a whack-a-mole game. So many tech companies have emerged that the term “Silicon Slopes” has been given to the phenomenon. Many of these companies have become very successful over a brief period of time. With the increase of companies and the rapid growth, the characteristic of pacesetting is very common in the leaders of companies.

The attributes of pacesetting sound ideal for any company. In his book, Goleman states, “The [pacesetting] leader holds and exemplifies the highest standard of performance. He is obsessive about doing things better and faster and asks the same of everyone. He quickly pinpoints poor performers, demands more from them, and if they don’t rise to the occasion, rescues the situation himself.”

He goes on. “This style can work extremely well, particularly in technical fields, among highly skilled professionals, or with a hard-driving sales team. Pacesetting makes sense, in particular, during the entrepreneurial phase of a company’s life cycle, where growth is all-important. Any time that group members are all highly competent, are motivated, and need little direction, the style can yield brilliant results. “

All that sounds amazing. That is definitely a leader you can trust to get the job done and hit the KPIs, right? But how long does that last? And at what cost?

Pacesetting style has a negative effect if carried on too long or if the company environment is not ideal. The long-term effects leave employees feeling pushed too hard by their leaders’ endless demands. Employees often second-guess their actions since the leader expects them to know what to do and gives very little guidance. This style results in a plummet of morale that can make a team feel like the leader doesn’t trust them to get the job done in their own way. It can suffocate innovation and creativity and leave the team feeling undervalued and separated.

The result?

Dissonance.

Where pacesetting works

So when does pacesetting work? Because it definitely does.

Pacesetting works when: 1) the ingredients are right and 2) it’s combined with the other five types of leadership.

So what are the ingredients?

A hard-driving sales team or a team made up of highly competent, motivated, and skilled professionals who need little direction.

Do an evaluation to determine if your team have these attributes. Do they take ownership of their channel or portion of the business? Are they achieving or surpassing the goals that are set for them? Are they confident in their work? Are they innovating new ways to get the job done?

As a manager or leader, make sure you know your team and how they react to different leadership styles. There is a very good chance that some of your team members don’t react well to the pacesetting type of leadership, but others thrive in it. It’s your job to tailor your leadership style according to the individual.

Don’t kid yourself, say “I’m a pacesetter,” and force it. You can’t force or imitate genuine pacesetting leadership. Your team will see right through that, and you will look like a phony. If the ingredients aren’t right, then excel at one of the other five leadership principles and let pacesetting come naturally.

If you are already in a pacesetting environment, cultivate it. It can be an exciting, fast-paced period for a company with some serious growth potential. It will lead a team to achieve by continually finding ways to improve their performance, initiate and seize new opportunities, and identify, fix, and improve places of poor performance.

About the author

Bradford Davis profile picture

Bradford Davis graduated from the University of Utah in Finance and has been in the marketing world for over four years. Bradford is the Affiliate Manager on the Lucidchart Marketing team. In his downtime, Bradford enjoys lacrosse, snow skiing, and "finishing the fight" with Master Chief on Xbox.

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