Affiliative Leadership Style: People First Approach

The affiliative leadership style is also known as the people-oriented or human relations leadership style. The leader creates a positive, friendly work environment with lots of support. Another similar style is a nurturing leadership style.

Affiliative leaders focus on creating a positive and supportive workplace. This people-first style of leadership may work best for a new team, or when low morale or poor communication are issues. That’s when the priority becomes to create an encouraging atmosphere.

You may want to adopt this approach because it aligns with your personal values and beliefs. Perhaps you have a strong sense of empathy. In any case, affiliative is one of the leadership styles every good manager should have in their toolkit.


Affiliative leadership is a leadership style where the leader strives to create harmony and emotional connections among team members. The goal is to create a sense of unity and belonging within the team.

An affiliative leader prioritizes the well-being of the team and creates a positive, supportive working environment. They often use praise and recognition to build morale and encourage teamwork. A priority is placed on resolving conflicts and promoting cooperation among employees.


Cooperative team meeting

Assuming one is also reasonably competent, a leader with an affiliative style is likely to be popular with employees. Here are examples of behaviors associated with the affiliate leadership style. An affiliative leader is liable to do most or all of these things regularly. They will:

  1. Check in with people to build trust and ensure they are aligned on goals.
  2. Create an open-door policy, where team members can come to them with any concerns or issues they may have.
  3. Hold regular team meetings where people can share their successes and be recognized by their peers.
  4. Organize a team lunch on Fridays, with games and music to create a fun and relaxed environment.
  5. Organize team building activities, such as off-site retreats or volunteer opportunities, to promote a sense of unity and belonging among team members.
  6. Start team meetings with a positive affirmation or a motivational quote to set the tone for a positive attitude.
  7. Take time to speak with a team member who is dealing with a personal issue, such as a family illness or a difficult life event, and offer support and resources to help them through it.

These affiliative leadership style examples are commonly seen in the public sector and other organizations that prioritize teamwork, collaboration, and employee satisfaction. The idea is to ensure everyone is happy and cooperating, leading to productive relationships and work outcomes.


Relaxed office meeting with chairs only

An affiliative leader is a type of leader who prioritizes the emotional well-being of people and the development of positive relationships within the workplace. Here are ten characteristics that help define an affiliative leader.

  1. Emphasises relationships. Affiliative leaders place a strong emphasis on building and maintaining positive relationships with employees and external stakeholders. They focus on creating emotional connections and building trust.
  2. Fosters teamwork. Someone with an affiliative leadership style will promote collaboration and teamwork, encouraging people to work together towards a common goal. They create a positive and supportive environment that fosters collaboration and cooperation.
  3. Lends emotional support. You are empathetic and provide psychological support. You’re also sensitive to the needs and feelings of team members and provide them with the support and encouragement they need to succeed.
  4. Flexible and adaptable. Leaders are flexible and adaptable, willing to adjust their leadership style and approach to meet the needs of the team and the situation.
  5. Encourages. Positive reinforcement is used to motivate and encourage. You provide recognition and praise for good work and accomplishments, and create a positive and supportive work environment.
  6. Diplomatic. Affiliative leaders are diplomatic in their communication, avoiding direct confrontation and criticism. They’re skilled at conflict resolution and promoting harmony in the team.
  7. Inclusive. The affiliative approach is inclusive, valuing the input and ideas of all. Leaders are good at creating a sense of belonging among team members.
  8. Open-minded. Affiliative leaders are open-minded, willing to consider new ideas and approaches. They’re also good at fostering creativity and innovation.
  9. Team focus. An affiliative leader creates a positive and supportive environment for the team as a whole. They strive to maintain harmony and avoid conflict within the team.
  10. Non-critical. Affiliative-style leaders avoid criticizing, and are more likely to provide constructive feedback in a way that doesn’t harm the relationship with the team member. They diplomatically balance any constructive criticism with positive feedback.

With this leadership style, you aim to create a supportive and harmonious workplace, promoting collaboration and teamwork, and fostering a general sense of belonging. While you also prioritize the achievement of goals and objectives, there is also an added concern for the emotions of others.

Ideal Situations

Smiling woman interviewing man in her office

You’ll thrive using the affiliative style in certain kinds of workplaces and industries, as well as when responding to disruptive events. In other situations, people may not be receptive to this approach, and may consider you’re wasting time instead of getting on with what needs to be done.

The nature of the work dictates when the affiliative approach is ideal. Businesses where your job is to be friendly is one example. Others are when you’re dealing with vulnerable people, such as young people or medical patients. Here are industries where the affiliative style may be highly advantageous, if not essential.

  • Creative industries. Industries such as advertising, design, and entertainment, where creativity and innovation are important and the talent needs a sense of freedom.
  • Customer service-oriented industries. Industries such as retail, hospitality, and tourism that focus on providing a positive customer experience.
  • Education. Schools, colleges, and universities tend to have an affiliative leadership approach, as their main goal is to create a positive and inclusive environment for learning and development.
  • Health care. Health care organizations, including hospitals and clinics, value an affiliative leadership approach as they focus on providing emotional support and care to patients and families.
  • Human services organizations. Organizations that provide counseling, therapy, and other forms of emotional support.
  • Non-profit organizations. Non-profit organizations that focus on helping others and making a positive impact in the community.
  • Public-facing. Industries and organizations that have a lot of public engagement and interactions, such as government, public relations, and media.
  • Small businesses. Small businesses that rely on a close-knit team and a positive attitude for their success.

In other workplaces, an affiliative leadership style may be less effective or even inappropriate. For example, quick decisions and high performance, rather than feelings, are at a premium in industries such as finance, technology, and military. Start-ups and small businesses focused on rapid growth may similarly require a more decisive and visionary leader, rather than an affiliative one.

Famous Affiliative Leaders

Here are a few examples of affiliative leaders. These are just a few examples mind you, and there are many more famous people and countless other who use this leadership style.

Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh, former CEO of Zappos, was known for his affiliative leadership style. Under his leadership, grew from a small start-up to a billion-dollar company, and was acquired by Amazon in 2009 for $1.2 billion. He authored the book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose.

Oprah Winfrey is often considered an affiliative leader due to her emphasis on emotional connections and building relationships with her audience. She is well known for her ability to connect with people on an emotional level and for her ability to inspire and motivate others.

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, is known for his people-first leadership style, as well as his charismatic personality and willingness to take on seemingly impossible business challenges. His book Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School became a best seller.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Woman making a point in a team meeting

There are pros and cons to affiliative leadership, which is why you may want to use it in moderation or focus on one of the alternative leadership styles, such as autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire, transformational, and transactional.


  1. Healthy workplace. Affiliative leaders promote teamwork and collaboration, which helps to build trust, loyalty and commitment in the workplace. This can lead to better performance and job satisfaction.
  2. Emotional intelligence. An affiliative leader is in tune with the emotions of their team, fostering emotional intelligence by providing support and guidance when needed. Over time, staff develop better interpersonal skills and are potentially more able to handle stress and conflict.
  3. Innovation. With a sense of teamwork and collaboration, people feel comfortable sharing their ideas, being creative, and taking some risks.
  4. High morale. With a focus on positive relationships, employee morale and job satisfaction lift.


  1. Soft. Affiliative leaders may be too soft in their approach, making it difficult for them to address problems or conflicts that arise. The result is a lack of accountability and poor performance.
  2. Lacks direction. Affiliative leaders may lack direction and focus, making it difficult for the team to achieve goals and objectives.
  3. Chokes. In crisis situations, a focus on emotions may be inappropriate for the situation and ineffectual.
  4. Uncompetitive. In competitive industries, with a high-pressure and high-stakes environment, focusing on emotions and teamwork may waste time.

One thought on “Affiliative Leadership Style: People First Approach

  1. Adopting an affiliative leadership style should lead to improved communication and stronger relationships among co-workers. This lift in team spirit in turn improves employee retention, which is a predictor of firm productivity over the long term.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *