What's your leadership style?

published5 months ago
4 min read

Goleman’s Research On 6 Leadership Styles Shows You Can Be A Caring Leader Who Gets Business Results. Here’s My Take.

Read time: 5 mins

Dear Friend, Subscriber, and Leader,

You don’t have to become a Dictator or empathetically collapse into a ‘Yes Man’ to get results from your team.

If you rate high on empathy and brilliance, chances are you fall into either extreme often. That’s the dynamic of being in a high-expectations role surrounded by other brilliant engineers and managers. And when you’re there long enough, you start caring about these people.

Today, I will talk about how tuning your leadership style to be more coach-like can get you out of this sticky dynamic.

You’re probably already coaching your team. I invite you to look at where you’re not and infuse the coaching style more. That’s the key to an organizational culture that gets sustainable long-term results.

Let’s dive in!

In 2000, Daniel Goleman released research on the 6 styles of leadership that changed everything about what we know about leadership.

(Paywalled HBR full article)

But, the first 5 of these styles miss ONE common thing - Developing Leaders.

Sure, other leadership styles are necessary sometimes, and they get quick results. But only the coaching style leadership has the power to develop leaders who develop leaders who develop leaders… and so on.

Most managers think they’re coaching when they’re actually not. So to distinguish that, let’s condense the 6 styles into 2.

There are only 2 types of leadership:

  1. Hierarchical leadership
  2. Coach-Like leadership

You’re still in category 1 if you’re putting yourself above the other person, no matter your leadership style. It’s about your internal stance rather than what you say outward. But what you say outward can give clues about your actual subconscious outlook.

You’re still hierarchical if you find yourself saying:

  • “Keep doing what you’re doing.”
  • “Thanks for pushing this out.”
  • “I expect you to…”
  • “I need you to…”
  • “Good job!”

Hierarchical gets the job done. but causes you immense suffering.

Hierarchical is a lot of exerting and efforting. You’re trying to control people and outcomes when you cannot control them at all. Coaching style has you let go of people needing to be a certain way. Your thinking changes to:

  • Assessing whether a person is fit for the role.
  • If they are, how to grow them to deliver the results they want to deliver (complete agency).

Hierarchical gets people into fear mode.

  • “If I don’t do this, I’ll be let go.”
  • “If I don’t do this, I won’t get my next promotion.”
  • “If I don’t show progress, I’ll have to admit to my incompetence in front of the whole team/publicly.”

Coaching style gets people to feel empowered, heard, seen, and taken care of. They get the feeling that you ‘got’ them. They can take risks. And when things go wrong, there is no insult. There’s only growth. Result? Non-linear thinking and innovation.

Hierarchical makes people needing to answer to you. Nobody likes to feel inferior. And when they accept inferiority, they need validation from you. You create a follower, not a leader.

Coaching style empowers the person to not need validation that they’re “a good employee.” They help the person stand on their feet, which, when modeled, becomes recursive— leaders who develop leaders who… you get the point.

Coaching style leadership is nuanced, requires less efforting and more personal growth. It’s the least stressful path.

Do leaders need many styles?

I would assert that the best leadership style is what develops each team member into a leader (whether they’re an IC or a people manager). And coach-like leadership does this the best while encompassing other styles.

This question arises because of some myths about the coaching style of leadership.

  • I cannot get commitment: You can absolutely get commitment from people without being authoritative. Read about the Commitment Container Framework here (6 mins).
  • I cannot challenge reports: You can challenge your reports and get alignment. Read about it here (6 mins).
  • I have to be authoritative in a constantly changing environment: You can manage these changes when you develop the ability to
    • Swiftly have the hard conversations.
    • Detach from how people perceive you.
    • Take powerful decisions by questioning the narrative.

This can look authoritative on the outside, but your inner stance can be non-hierarchical (7 mins).

The ultimate leadership style is where you ask, “What do you want?”

Coaching style leadership has become subjective and with many different definitions.

So, I want to reframe coaching style -> developing leaders.

It’s the art of making your people feel safe, moving them from fear to choice, and bringing out their risky creative side.

You start developing leadership when you keep asking them what they want:

  • Do they want coaching on covering a gap?
  • Do they want you to tell them what to do?
  • Do they want you to step back and let them fail however it goes?
  • Do they want a partnership from you to figure out a solution to this problem?

And then they own the consequences of their choices– Promotion this quarter or 2 years later (provided you laid out the consequences you see before they made that choice.)

Start developing leadership with these 5 questions in your 1x1s:

  1. What gap are we working on today?
  2. Where do you want to be with that?
  3. Where are you right now? (What have you already tried?)
  4. What’s in the way?
  5. What do you commit to this week?

When you keep redirecting your 1x1s to these questions, you can let go of your command-control efforting and let them take more ownership and responsibility. Your job is half-done.

The meat of your leadership comes from partnering with them to explore what comes after #4 and #5.

That’s it for today!

Before you go, a quick question:

What do you want to learn in 2023?

I'm developing a course this February for Tech Managers and I need your help!

If you want to infuse more leadership development in your day-to-day, can you take a quick second to answer the following:

What's the 1 HOW TO course you'd sign up for immediately? Say, it's practice-based with actionable frameworks and templates.

Align bosses, directs & peers
Master difficult conversations
Get commitment not complaince
Coach more and develop leaders


  • Be more coach-like
  • Empower people to become leaders
  • Model leadership by doing your own work

Mounica Veggalam

Hey, there! I talk about non-linear growth strategies and leadership development for tech managers. Get mindset deep dives to break through into senior leadership roles.

Read more from Mounica Veggalam