What Is the Affiliative Leadership Style?

Written by Rebecca Turley

affiliative leadership style

Feelings… emotions… connections… bonding. No, this isn’t a group therapy session or a self-help book.

They’re what a leader is focused on when developing and maintaining an affiliative style of leadership. In the eyes of the affiliative leader, when people and relationships are put first, a peaceful workplace environment naturally develops, leading all members of the team to feel supported and valued.

In its simplest terms, affiliative leadership is a people-first approach to leadership.

Leaders who utilize the affiliative leadership style work to create a true team atmosphere, a feeling of togetherness and, ultimately, a harmonious team. If you’re a leader looking to create strong bonds with members of your team, then you’re likely focused on developing your affiliative style of leadership.

The Affiliative Style of Leadership Explained

large group in office

When leaders struggle to bring their team together, the whole process suffers. Creativity, teamwork, efficiency, productivity – they all require a team that works well together.

So, what do leaders do when members of the team just aren’t jiving, or when there seems to be a lack of cohesiveness? In some cases, they focus their attention on building those bonds and creating those connections between themselves and their team and between the members of the team.

In other words, they begin to adopt the role of an affiliative leader. Some leaders naturally lead in this style, but in most cases, an affiliative style of leadership is implemented as needed.

The affiliative style of leadership can be best described as inclusive. It’s all about adopting a style of leadership that lets employees know they’re more than just a number or a tool used to accomplish organizational objectives. In the affiliative style of leadership, leaders keep the focus on the employee, letting them know they’re all valuable and important. It’s a modern form of leadership that flies in the face of the traditional, top-down leadership role where it’s all business, all of the time.

Leaders ask questions to really get to know their employees, and most importantly, to show their employees that they care about them both as a person and as an employee. They also encourage employees to do the same with their colleagues.

In the affiliative style of leadership, employee well-being is prioritized, and strong emotional bonds are created between the leader and their employees and between all members of the team. In this environment, leaders are ultimately seeking out a happy, high-performing team where employees share a sense of belonging.

Exercises to Strengthen a Team-Based Workplace

working on a planA leader’s most important role in the affiliative style of leadership is to create an emotional bond with the members of the team. Open, honest dialogue; plenty of interaction; and a supportive environment where questions, ideas, and complaints are always heard and valued provide the foundation for a successful work culture that’s led in the affiliative style.

Here are some team exercises that will allow you to boost morale, increase lines of communication, and create the team-based atmosphere you seek in an affiliative style of leadership:

Shared Values

Demonstrate your team’s shared values by writing an adjective down the white board about what you hope to accomplish with your team. For example, you may write down the word “trust” on the board.

You’ll then ask your team members to describe what trust as part of a team means to them. For the next few minutes, you’ll encourage the members of your team to share their answers, which you’ll write down as a mind map on the board. For example, a team member may say that trust to them means “always speaking the truth to members of the team.”

Once the ideas are jotted down, you’ll ask all participants to explore what each answer means to them and how they would go about achieving this goal. Achieve consensus from all participants and dive deep into what building trust means to the team.

The results make up what the team will refer to as the team’s “shared values,” which will serve as a code of conduct for the team.

Workplace Stories

Learning from past mistakes is a big part of growing as an individual and as a team.

Assemble the team together in a comfortable environment and then ask each member of the team to share a negative work experience from a past job. As each team member retells their story, write down adjectives that you hear onto a whiteboard.

For example, some of the adjectives you may hear include “traumatizing,” “upsetting,” or “embarrassed.”

Explore with your team how these words make them feel and how you and the team can work together to produce more positive workplace experiences.

Two Truths and One Lie

A fun way to bring together members of your team and allow them to get to know each other better is through the Two Truths, One Lie game.

Before this group bonding exercise, ask each member of your team to think of two truths and one lie about themselves. Then, each person takes turning telling their two truths and one lie to the team. It’s up to the other members of the team to guess which is the lie among the person’s three statements. Encourage your employees to think creatively and this game is sure to be a hit!

Blind Artist

Outstanding communication is necessary for the vitality of a team. Here’s a lively game to improve your teams’ communication skills.

Divide your employees into two teams. Each team picks one person to be the blind artist. All other members of the team receive a picture of a common object, such as a bicycle or a dog, but they don’t show the picture to the artist.

It is up to them to verbally instruct the artist on how to draw the object without giving away what it is they’re drawing. The team whose drawing is closer to the picture wins!

Key Points of the Affiliative Style of Leadership

Chances are, you’ve achieved an affiliative style of leadership when:

The Pros and Cons of the Affiliative Leadership

Much can be accomplished when the affiliative leadership style is implemented:

But it’s not always sunshine and roses in the affiliative style of leadership. There are times when this type of leadership tends to fall flat. Some of the drawbacks of the affiliative leadership include:

What Does Affiliative Leadership Look Like? A Glimpse Into an Affiliative Work Environment

Leaders in an affiliative style of leadership create work environments where employees are valued and encouraged. Leaders serve as close mentors and confidants, thereby creating a work culture where support is always offered, and thoughtfulness and consideration naturally result.

Leaders in an affiliative style of leadership focus on achieving a well-rounded, supportive team atmosphere where you’ll find: