Field Notes: Follow the Leader

March 22, 2021
  • Competencies
  • Leadership and Management
  • field notes
  • Leadership
Leadership and Management

"Field Notes" is a regular Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

By Laura Remillard, Associate Director of Graduate Admissions, Stanford University.


What kind of leader are you? Do you like to micromanage? Do you prefer to stand back? Do you show emotion or do you see that as weakness? There are many kinds of leaders and determining which one(s) you fall under is key to your success as a manager.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., and author of Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership has written about six types of leadership styles: commanding leadership; affiliative leadership; democratic leadership; coaching leadership; visionary leadership; and pacesetting leadership.

A commanding leader is someone who is directive and does not typically explain what the action is. Although this type of leader can excel in difficult situations and foster confidence in employees when crises arise, this type of leader can also tend to micromanage, show little empathy, and eventually make employees feel overwhelmed and dissatisfied. I worked under someone like this once and it is true; in a crisis, this type of leader can lead the way to recovery but on a day-to-day basis, they lack empathy and tend to create disunity.

The affiliative leader tends to bond with the team and brings harmony. This type of leader gets to know each team player and works to make everyone feel comfortable. On the one hand, this type of leader puts everyone at ease; but if the employees start to feel the leader is more of a friend than a manager, it could create conflict if the manager needs to correct or be assertive to the employees. 

The democratic leaders seek consensus among their employees; therefore, employees feel they are part of the decision. Employees feel valued. This type of leadership style works when there is time to obtain input from everyone, but when there is a short deadline, decisions can be delayed. 

The coaching leader is someone who in essence is training someone to fill their own role with hopes the employee will become a coach themselves. When the coach spends time to train and hone the skills of their employees, loyalty and confidence are gained. This style would not work if there is an employee who thinks they have nothing to gain from coaching; they feel they already have all the skills necessary to move on. I recall leading a meeting and when I spoke about a point, I had learned during manager training, one of the employees quickly said, “Oh, I already do that.” 

The visionary leader is one who always looks to the future and has long-range plans. They are excellent communicators and motivate employees to have one goal. Employees tend to have confidence but if this style is used too often, employees might tend to overlook the short-term goals and get distracted with only achieving the long-term goals. 

The pacesetting leader does as is described: sets the pace for the team. This type of leader is often a high achiever and expects others to be as well. This type of leadership style works for short-term goals, but if used for long-range goals the employees might eventually feel stressed and overwhelmed.  

So which style is right for you, or do you see yourself fitting in? 

According to Pamela Paspa, Assistant Dean of Career Education and Associate Director of Career Communities at Stanford University, the best leaders look at the circumstances and then reflect on the types of styles to see what resonates with them or what to aspire to. For example, the military has a different leadership style because people’s safety is at risk. In that case, a more authoritarian style is needed. 

In the end, Paspa recommends using various types at the same time, or in a given situation. “It is absolutely possible and necessary…The trick in leadership is awareness of self and awareness of one's impact. Leaders need to listen and meet the needs of their team, provide resources and processes that align with work values and the mission and vision of the organization.” She continues, “A lot of folks believe (as do I) that a leader who can flex into different styles based on the situation (situational leadership) or the person/people they are interacting with tend to be the ‘best’ leaders.

Interested in further content regarding leadership training? Order Leadership Lessons: Vision and Values for a New Generation from AACRAO online.