How to Improve Performance with the Affiliative Leadership Style

Updated: 30 Jan, 2020 | Emily Roner

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 that fosters 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.

Here are 6 ways to use the affiliative leadership style to boost performance.

1) Praise Positive Employee Behaviors

Affiliative leadership is all about positive reinforcement. You should strive to guide employee actions by constantly praising people who display positive behaviors instead of ridiculing employees who don’t meet expectations.

This management approach fosters a positive culture and increases employees’ perceived control over their performance.

Keep in mind that some low performers won’t make the connection that you're not praising them because they’re not displaying desirable behaviors. If some employees aren’t taking any actions to improve, have 1:1 meetings to chat about their performance. Frame the discussion positively by telling them you see the changes as a professional growth opportunity for them.

Warning: Though positive reinforcement is an essential part of the affiliative management style, it can come across as favoritism if you only praise a couple of top performers. Make sure to distribute your praise as broadly as possible so that your team thinks it’s being given fairly.

2) Spot and Resolve Personal and Performance Conflicts Early

A vital element of the affiliative leadership style is maintaining harmony on your team. Many managers make the mistake of trying to do that by avoiding conflicts because they fear that acknowledging a conflict will cause it to blow up.

In reality, the sooner you address conflicts, the less of an impact they have, especially with performance-related issues. The last thing you want is to reach a point where your team is stuck at a standstill because one poor performer didn’t do their work or have a major argument break out because a conflict between a couple of employees built up for too long.

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.

3) Actively Strive to Prevent Burnout

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. If you let employee burnout go unchecked, it will suck the energy out of your team.

To prevent burnout, you first have to understand its causes. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Prolonged periods of excessive stress and long hours
  • Being limited to work that is repetitive and boring
  • Experiencing frequent failure due to unrealistic goals

Using the affiliate management style limits the risk of these issues since you take employee needs into account. However, if you’re leading a high-achieving team, they’re likely to put excessive pressure on themselves and burnout.

Related: How to Prevent Your High-Performers From Burning Out

Here are a few ways to keep your team energized and motivated:

  • 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.
  • Set the expectation

If all of your employees are too busy to occasionally help each other with their workload, consider getting them outsourced support. Hiring a managed virtual assistant service gives each of your high-performers a dedicated assistant who can offload all of their tedious admin tasks so that they can focus on the work that builds your business.

Download our guide to leveraging virtual assistants to learn more. 

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4) Encourage Constant, Transparent Communication

Affiliative leaders manage their team with a people-first approach, which often means that employees have a lot of autonomy to pursue their goals as they see fit. Autonomy is great; however, it requires extra communication to ensure that everyone understands expectations and is aligned with the rest of the team.

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 also need to set the example by being transparent about your decisions and keeping your team updated on news that affects them.

Related: How to Instill Effective Team Communication Habits

5) Create Casual Team Building Opportunities

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 your extroverts may love playing get-to-know-you games and going to non-work-related off-sites, your introverts despise those kinds of social interactions and will resent you for forcing them to participate.

To foster team unity, you need to create casual team-building opportunities that everyone on your team will intro. Here are some examples:

  • Host team lunches. Eating together is an easy way to spark conversations without putting anyone on the spot.
  • Play sports-related games. One of the main reasons while introverts despise team-building activities is that they hate being forced to share personal details about themselves. Doing exercises like bowling, golf, etc. allows them to have casual conversations with coworkers without the spotlight being on them.
  • Volunteer at local organizations. If your team consists of mostly serious personalities, who prefer working on purposeful activities, hosting quarterly volunteer days at different organizations is a great way to help them bond over the causes they care about.

Work with your team to brainstorm other low-pressure activities that they’d enjoy doing together.

6) Allow Employees to Have Flexible Schedules

A central tenant of the affiliative management style is establishing mutual trust with your employees. One of the easiest and most impactful ways to show your employees you trust them is to let them have a flexible schedule.

After all, if you trust your employees to complete their projects successfully, you shouldn’t have to require them to be in the office for specific hours. They should be able to occasionally work odd hours or from a different location without asking for permission in advance.

Promoting a flexible work policy also makes it easy for employees to achieve work-life balance and feel like you have their best interests in mind.

Related: How to Use Transactional Leadership to Drive Team Success

About the Author: Emily formerly led Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.


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