13 Affiliative Leadership Examples

Affiliative Leadership Examples

For affiliative leaders, achieving project goals is still important, but ensuring that employees feel respected and appreciated is also a priority. 

When work responsibilities and task demands can be stressful, the affiliative leader knows the value of helping their employees be successful.

They work hard to build teamwork and cohesion among team members, which not only increases company loyalty, but also facilitates completing projects successfully. 

There are many examples of affiliative leadership practices, such as helping employees develop a feasible career plan, implementing team-building activities, and engaging in conflict resolution that takes all perspectives into account.

Definition of Affiliative Leadership

Affiliative leaders possess many admirable goals. First and foremost, they try to build people up.

They understand that helping their team develop their individual skills is good for the company, deepens company loyalty, and fosters creativity and risk-taking.

They are highly responsive to the needs of their employees. This requires emotional intelligence (EI), not only in dealing with others, but in understand oneself as well.

As explained by Salovey and Mayer (1990), among the first proponents of emotional intelligence, EI is:

“the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (p. 188).

Affiliative Leadership Examples

An affiliative leader might focus on the following things:

  1. A focus on conflict resolution
  2. Focusing on team member strengths
  3. Having monthly team dinners   
  4. Going on corporate retreats
  5. Conducting indoor collaborative tasks  
  6. The leader is an active listener
  7. Mentoring and career coaching
  8. Leaders engaging in self-disclosure  
  9. Acceptable humor in the workplace
  10. Use of improv and skits during professional development programs
  11. Team board game and talent show nights
  12. Embracing democratic leadership
  13. Taking on a servant leader disposition

Examples in Detail

1. Resolving Conflicts

Affiliative leaders are highly skilled at helping people get along. This can be especially difficult with certain worker profiles.

For example, endeavors that require a great deal of creativity, such as making an animated children’s movie, means working with people that are sometimes ego-driven and/or sensitive in nature. It’s just their personality profile. Their emotional temperament is what makes them so creative.

Therefore, having a leader that is able to take into account the perspectives of all parties in a conflict, be objective and neutral, and then reach a resolution that is satisfactory too all, is is exceptionally challenging but vital.  

However, when a project takes several years to complete and involves dozens of work-teams, resolving conflicts is just part of the job. A leader with an affiliative approach to people will help the project be successful.  

2. List the Strengths of Each Team Member

Traditionally speaking, the workplace is a competitive environment where colleagues vie for a limited supply of resources, both financial and material. It is a place that can foster negativity and criticism.

But for the affiliative leader, the workplace should be positive and encouraging. Highlighting the strengths of individual team members can be a very effective technique to this end.

There are two versions of this strategy. In the leader version, the leader writes complimentary statements regarding each individual on different sheets of paper and places them somewhere easily seen. Some use colored post-it-notes while others may choose larger sized colored paper.

The colleague version involves the employees writing these complimentary statements about their coworkers. Each person draws a name from a hat and then writes a compliment about that person. This continues for several rounds.

It’s a great way to help people see the good side of the those they may be most annoyed with.

3. Monthly Team Dinners   

Gathering employees together outside of the work environment is a great way to foster positive relations among the team. Although it is a strategy that has been around for a long, long time, it is still highly effective.

Sharing meals helps people connect and build positive emotional bonds. Food is one of our most fundamental biological needs. When dining with others or having a backyard BBQ, the atmosphere is relaxed.

Everyone is doing something they enjoy and the leader is picking up the bill. It is a time when people can laugh together, make a few jokes, and see their colleagues in a completely different version of themselves.

As long as the level of alcohol consumption is moderated, it’s a great way to build team cohesion.

4. Corporate Retreats

A corporate retreat is a tried-and-tested technique that comes directly from an affiliative leadership philosophy.

The retreat may involve just a few days in a cabin over a weekend, or an entire week spent in a secluded resort.

There are a lot of activities that take place that are specifically designed to foster a spirit of teamwork and help people get along better. There are trust-building activities, collaboration activities, and even nonsense activities that don’t seem to have any other purpose other than just being fun. That’s perfectly okay.

Work can be stressful and tensions among staff can run high. Having fun is a great way to break that stress barrier that exists between people and restore positive emotional connections.  

5. Indoor Collaborative Tasks  

Having employees work together on a non-work-related task is another affiliative approach to building teamwork and cohesion.

For example, employees are divided into teams and try to accomplish a collaborative task, such as setting up dominos in an agreed upon design, or using old newspapers and tape to construct a bridge on a table (the bridge that holds the most books wins).

Collaborative tasks bring refreshing energy to the room, which, if well-timed, can be just what the staff need while pushing towards a pressure-packed deadline. The activity helps individuals that weren’t getting along to rediscover how helpful their colleagues can be.

Some affiliative leaders are wise and will insert a fun-filled collaborative activity in the middle of an information-heavy day of training. This just helps break-up the monotony of listening to someone jabber-on and on about boring topics.

Collaborative tasks strengthen working relationships and are a great tool for the affiliative leader.  

6. Active Listening

Active listening is a valuable soft skill that helps both the speaker and listener better understand the dynamics of a situation.

It involves careful listening, observing non-verbal behavior, paraphrasing, offering brief affirmations such as “I see” and “Sure,” and displaying non-verbal cues like nodding and leaning forward to show interest and concern.

It is essential to avoid passing judgement or making evaluative comments on what the other person is saying and feeling. 

By using these simple techniques, the affiliative leader establishes trust and rapport with the person they are conversing with. This helps foster a work environment that is positive and supportive, which is exactly what the affiliative leader strives to accomplish.

7. Mentoring and Career Coaching

Mentoring and career coaching are very similar. The goal of each is to focus on one employee and help them excel in their career.

This can involve working out a clearly defined career path that contains reasonable milestones and a feasible timeline. Specific training needs and programs can be identified so the employee has some concrete goals to target.

Mentoring is a longer-term proposition and can involve establishing a deeper emotional connection between the leader and employee. It can become a lot more personal, as the two will work together for easily a year or more.

The end result is that the employee knows they are a valued member of the organization. They can see and feel it in the commitment from their leader, and this in turn, makes them more committed to organizational goals and values.  

8. Using Self-disclosure  

Self-disclosure involves sharing personal information. This means revealing to others your inner thoughts and feelings. It can include sharing with others what your dreams are or your biggest fears.

An affiliative leader can utilize self-disclosure to help form an emotional bond with their staff. When we share personal information with someone else, it makes them feel closer.

Many will feel compelled to reciprocate and share information about themselves as well. This enhances understanding of one another and helps people collaborate more effectively. 

Of course, there are some risks as well.

There is a fine line between effective self-disclosure and revealing too much personal information.

There are also cultural factors to consider. In some countries, anything personal is too personal, especially in the workplace. Therefore, it is important that an affiliative leader understands the parameters of the situation they are in before engaging in too much self-disclosure.

9. Humor     

Having a sense of humor and being able to make others laugh is not really a skill that can be trained. It’s something that either comes naturally, or doesn’t.

However, it is a great way to lighten the mood and alter the emotional dynamics of a situation. An affiliative leader can use humor to defuse tension, take the awkwardness out of an awkward moment, or lessen the blow of a mistake or criticism of a performance.

Some affiliative leaders use a self-deprecating style of humor to lower the barrier between staff and the leader’s status. This can help develop an open environment where employees feel connected to their leader and feel free to approach them with difficulties or suggestions.

10. Improv and Skits   

This last example can be a bit risky. It all depends on if everybody on the staff has a good sense of humor or not. So, be forewarned.

At an end of the year party or end of project celebration, employees can get together to make a short play or funny skit about each other, the leader included. The skits don’t have to be elaborate or long, just a few minutes for each one will do.

They can be about the perilous moments in the project that had everyone’s nerves shot, but ended up fine, or just about someone’s idiosyncrasy, which we all have in some form or another.

Although everything is in jest, sometimes a skit can backfire and hurt someone’s feelings. So, it may be best to limit the skits to only be about the leader, who should be prepared to be the target of the staff’s good-natured ribbing.   

11. Board Games and Talent Shows  

Breaking the office routine is a great way to improve morale and re-energize an emotionally depleted staff. An observant affiliative leader will know when it’s just the right time.

So, every once in a while, the team can take part in an unusual social activity in the office. This can include playing board games, conducting a talent show, or having a costume party that coincides with a holiday such as Halloween.  

This type of activity doesn’t have to last all day; just a couple of hours is all it takes to allow people to get into a different mindset and have some fun. When they get back to work their enthusiasm will be replenished and they’ll be ready to go.

Conclusion

Of all the leadership styles, the affiliative leader is the greatest master of emotional dynamics. They are highly skilled at emotional intelligence and establishing emotional connections with others. This helps them create a working environment that is positive and encouraging.

The affiliative leader is also people-oriented and wants nothing more than to help their team excel, in terms of project success and individual career aspirations as well.

To this end, they employ a wide variety of strategies, including career coaching, conflict resolution, and social activities such as team dinners, retreats, and collaborative tasks. They practice active listening, self-disclosure, and if possible, humor.

The primary objectives of the affiliative leader are to be successful, in terms of both work and human relations.

References

Gagnon, S., Vough, H. C., & Nickerson, R. (2012). Learning to lead, unscripted: Developing affiliative leadership through improvisational theatre. Human Resources Development Review, 11(3), 299-325.

Haas, J. W., & Arnold, C. L. (1995). An examination of the role of listening in judgments of communication competence in co-workers. Journal of Business Communication, 32, 123–139.  https://doi.org/10.1177/002194369503200202

Johnson, I.W., Pearce, C.G., Tuten, T.L., & Sinclair, L.E. (2003). Self-imposed silence and perceived listening effectiveness. Business Communication Quarterly, 66, 23 – 38. https://doi.org/10.1177/108056990306600203

Laurenceau, JP., Barrett, L., & Pietromonaco, P. (1998). Intimacy as an interpersonal process: The importance of self-disclosure, partner disclosure, and perceived partner responsiveness in interpersonal exchanges. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 1238-1251. https://doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.74.5.1238

Robert, C., Dunne, T., & Iun, J. (2016). The impact of leader humor on subordinate job satisfaction. Group & Organization Management, 41(3), 375-406. https://doi.org/10.1177/1059601115598719.

Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). A first formal theory of emotional intelligence, and a review of then-existing literature that might pertain to it. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185–211. https://doi.org/10.2190/DUGG-P24E-52WK-6CDG

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