What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?

Written by Rebecca Turley

pacesetting leadership style

“The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”

If you’re leading using a pacesetting style of leadership, your employees and teams better be prepared to take off running when you say go; otherwise, they’ll be left in the dust.

A pacesetting leadership style is similar to the role of pacesetters in marathons (also called pacemakers or pacers), who are responsible for helping set a pace for other runners. In a marathon setting, other runners match their pace to the pacesetter’s, thereby allowing them to maintain a desired speed and achieve peak performance.

The pacesetting style of leadership operates in a similar fashion, with the leader setting the pace, the tone, the style of the work to be done and others following suit. In the pacesetting leadership style, the leader sets a high-performance benchmark and expects the team members to match it. In this style of leadership, keeping the pace of the leader is required – no excuses or exceptions are tolerated. And in many cases, the pace set by the leader is grueling.

Leaders in this type of work environment work to high standards (sometimes impossibly high) and expect those working under them to do the same. Bigger, faster, better… in the pacesetting style of leadership, the status quo simply won’t do. It’s go big or go home.

Pacesetting leaders are laser focused on achieving specific results, and that requires a highly dedicated and focused team that is willing and able to meet their high expectations.

Follow the Leader: The Pacesetting Style of Leadership Explained

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

Whether it’s speed, quality, or performance (most likely a combination of all three), pacesetting leaders always focused on getting the most out of the teams they lead. Nothing less than peak performance is accepted in this form of leadership.

Pacesetting leaders are in the trenches with their employees from start to finish. There’s no giving the assignment and walking away in this form of leadership. They’re actively involved and plugged in, working alongside their team and setting the pace that they expect all to follow.

When used in the right circumstances and with the right team, the pacesetting style of leadership can result in great things. When it fails, it’s akin to the wheels falling off a bicycle; in other words, it won’t be pretty.

When the Pacesetting Leadership Style Works Like a Finely Tuned Machine

A leader with a strong vision + a motivated, highly trained team = the dream team that gets the job done in record time.

In the optimal pacesetting style of leadership, leaders always:

Display Initiative

Pacesetting leaders take the initiative to devise goals and work at an enthusiastic pace, and they expect their employees and teams to commit to meeting their pace to accomplish the envisioned goal.

Lead By Example

Pacesetting leaders strive to accomplish deadlines and uphold their own high set of standards so that the employees they lead will do the same. Leaders in this work environment don’t ask anything of their team that they aren’t already doing themselves. They’re always focused on being the best role model to their teams.

Communicate Their Expectations

Pacesetting leadership doesn’t mean micromanaging the team. Instead, leaders in this environment set crystal clear expectations and fully expect their team to take charge and run with the task. Pacesetting leaders lay out the plan and then it’s up to the team to execute it without fail – and certainly on time.

Demand a Motivated and Focused Team

In the pacesetting leadership style, leaders aren’t in the business of training the team and spending their time encouraging and motivating. In this scenario, the team is already trained, motivated, and highly capable of carrying out the project.

A top-notch, seasoned team not only has what it takes to meet the pace of their leader, they rise to the occasion and take pride in accomplishing the task. The team must already function well together to be able to pull off this type of leadership.

In a pacesetting style of leadership, each team member brings their own patented blend of knowledge and know-how to the team to get the job done. In fact, this high-pressure work environment provides ample opportunities for members of the team to rise to the occasion and:

To implement a pacesetting style of leadership while still maintaining a sustainable and healthy environment, leaders must:

When the Pacesetting Leadership Style Goes Off the Rails

The pacesetting style of leadership can be an extremely effective method of accomplishing tasks and completing projects of high value and importance – provided it’s carried out by the right leader, with the right team, at the right time.

Most of the time, the pacesetting leadership style is most effective when used selectively. When it’s used to accomplish a specific goal, this form of leadership allows the leader to set the pace of the team to meet an important deadline or complete a major project on time. But if employees and teams are expected to proceed at full speed all of the time, employee burnout and a crumbling company culture result.

Laser-focused leaders who can lead a team through a period of growth or when accomplishing a goal are valued. However, pacesetting leaders who work at a feverish pace all of the time and expect their employees to do the same are destined for failure.

When used too often, a pacesetting style of leadership often leads to high levels of stress, burnout, resentment, lack of confidence, feelings of inadequacy among team members, low team morale, and a lack of productivity.

Worse, teams in this setting often collapse, resulting in the loss of good employees, a high turnover rate, and an ultimate financial strain on the company.

In the pacesetting style of leadership, leaders don’t have time to establish employee relationships, build company culture, and train employees. If these factors haven’t already been addressed, this type of environment simply won’t work. Leaders who must delay a project by tending to employee or team issues and/or providing additional training and oversight can never expect to run a project at full speed.

A pacesetting style of leadership doesn’t work when the leader:

Building the Team That’s Poised for Success In a Pacesetting Environment

unity through joined handsA strong, motivated, and unified team doesn’t happen easily, and it doesn’t happen overnight. But leaders who are focused on consistently achieving outstanding results know that taking the time to build a solid team is always time well spent.

As you work to bring together a team of talent that produces outstanding results when time is of the essence, it’s important to remember to: