The most effective way to boost team performance is to become a better leader. Gallup found that management behavior accounts for 70% of the variance in employee engagement. Whether managers support and empower their employees, instill fear, or neglect their team has a significant impact on performance.
One of the first steps in making improvements is adopting a leadership style, like affiliative leadership, that supports your team’s success.
What Is Affiliative Leadership?
Unlike traditional, authoritative management styles, affiliative leadership prioritizes employee wellbeing, team unity, and transparency. The goal is to create an environment where employees feel respected and are empowered to pursue the kinds of creative solutions that will set your company apart from competitors.
We’ll dive into the pros and cons so you can decide if it’s right for you.
Benefits of the Affiliative Leadership Style
With its emphasis on positivity, collaboration and flexibility, it’s no surprise that studies show affiliative leaders reap many benefits.
Here are the top three.
1) Your Team Will Feel Appreciated
Affiliative leadership is all about positive reinforcement. By praising and rewarding employees when they display desirable behaviors, you can create a positive feedback loop where employees strive to receive consistent recognition. Over time, this can lead to significant performance gains.
A study from the American Psychological Association found that employees who feel valued are more engaged and driven to succeed than those who feel like their hard work goes unnoticed.
To ensure your recognition remains meaningful over time, deliver it in a variety of formats that reflect the level of achievement.
2) Conflicts are Resolved Before they Become Major Issues
A vital element of the affiliative leadership style is maintaining harmony with your team. Affiliative leaders believe that the sooner you address conflicts, the less of an impact they have, especially with performance-related issues.
To spot and resolve conflicts early, you need to:
- Closely monitor employee performance and behavior to identify early signs of conflict.
- Address these observations in your 1:1s using a helpful, non-accusatory tone. If you’re addressing a personal conflict, give them a chance to share their side of the story since your judgment could be wrong.
- Give them action steps to resolve the situation before it gets worse.
- Check-in on a weekly or biweekly basis until the issue subsides.
The benefit of this conflict resolution approach is that it lets you address problems with employees while they’re still small and minimally threatening. This makes it much easier to maintain an empathetic, affiliative communication style.
4) Encourage Constant, Transparent Communication
Affiliative leaders manage their team with a people-first approach, which requires everyone to have access to the knowledge they need to succeed.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure your team engages in constant, transparent communication:
- Have a daily 15-minute huddle where everyone shares an update on their work
- Require your team to track their projects on a shared task management system
- Praise employees who communicate transparently and reprimand those who hoard information
As an affiliate leader, you can also set an example by being transparent about your decisions and keeping your team updated on news that affects them.
Unexpected Weaknesses of the Affiliative Leadership Style
No leadership style lacks drawbacks. If you’re considering becoming an affiliative leader, keep these weaknesses in mind so that you can mitigate their effects on your team.
1) Positive Feedback Doesn’t Solve Performance Issues
As mentioned above, one of the core tenants of the affiliative leadership style is positive reinforcement. While in an ideal world, all your employees will work hard and earn recognition, the reality is some of your employees’ performance will be substandard.
In an effort to remain positive, affiliative leaders often avoid difficult conversations with one of these approaches:
- They find any reason to praise their low performers, so they don’t feel left out.
- They only praise their top performers and hope that their lower performers will eventually get the hint and improve on their own.
Both approaches hinder team performance and morale.
As an affiliative leader, your goal should be to empower your employees to exceed. This often means sharing constructive criticism. However, unlike other leaders who might use aggressive tactics, you can focus on filling gaps in training, processes, resources, etc.
2) Burnout is Highly Contagious
The success of the affiliative management style depends on your ability to maintain a positive culture where everyone feels connected to each other and the work they’re doing. However, when your team has strong social bonds, they’re more prone to the ‘burnout contagion effect’ where one employee burns out and their negative energy spreads throughout your team.
Here are a few ways to address early signs of burnout before it derails your whole team:
- If one employee is exhibiting signs of burnout, work with them 1:1 to find solutions.
- Set realistic goals. An easy way to judge if a goal is realistic is to base it on past metrics improvements.
- Discourage employees from working longer than 50 hours a week. Helping them maintain work-life balance reduces their likelihood of burning out.
If your employees can’t avoid working long hours, consider getting them outsourced support. Hiring a managed virtual assistant service gives each of your high performers a dedicated assistant who can offload all their tedious admin tasks so that they can focus on their core responsibilities.
3) Team Bonding Activities May Backfire
One of the central components of the affiliative leadership style is creating a culture where employees trust and feel connected to each other. Many managers make the mistake of trying to achieve that by forcing employees to participate in a bunch of “fun” team bonding activities.
While some people love playing get-to-know-you games and going to non-work-related off-sites, others who are introverted and/or prefer to maintain strong boundaries between their work and personal lives will resent you for forcing them to participate.
Surveys show that 60% of employees feel anxious when forced to participate in team bonding activities and 46% would prefer to work instead. This doesn’t bode well for improving engagement.
Given this, how do you promote team bonding? Plan lots of simple, optional activities. Employees are 3.6x more likely to enjoy activities that are voluntary.
Arguably, making team bonding optional aligns better with the affiliative leadership style since it encourages employees to prioritize their well-being while fostering stronger relationships with the team. If they need to skip an activity to focus on an urgent deliverable, they can do so and when their workload is lighter, they can go to happy hour with less stress.