Leadership Style: Pacesetting


Pacesetting Leadership - Six Styles Of Emotional Leadership

Daniel Goleman’s book, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence discusses the six leadership styles leaders can take to ensure a healthy working environment.

An effective leader has the versatility to implement all six leadership styles in different situations. The leadership styles Goleman outlined in his book are authoritative, democraticaffiliative, pacesetting, commanding, and coaching leader.


In this article, we will focus on the pacesetting leadership style.

Table of Contents

What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?

Pacesetting leadership is highly focused on the final product. It’s a very goal-oriented emotional leadership style that drives high-achieving team members to accomplish at as high a rate as possible. 

Pacesetters, in a race, are the ones who literally “set the pace” for the other people participating in the event. Pacesetters frequently take the lead in the early part of the race in order to help others achieve their goals, from setting records to ensuring that they meet the expected pace of the race as a whole. In a business setting, pacesetting leaders clearly set the pace for what they expect in terms of output and capability themselves, and then expect the other members of the team to fall in line behind them and hold to those same goals. Pacesetter leaders are generally results-driven, and if their employees fail to hold the pace and meet those goals, there may be considerable consequences for all members of the team.

Pros and Cons of Pacesetting Leadership

Pacesetting leadership, like most other emotional leadership styles, has several advantages and disadvantages. 

The Advantages

Pacesetting leadership is clearly focused on high levels of achievement, and it helps draw exactly that from employees. 

  • Pacesetting leadership helps achieve high-level results from employees. It’s perfect for, for example, meeting deadlines on a major project quickly. 
  • Pacesetting leadership acknowledges, highlights, and fully utilizes the competencies of every member of the team. Managers are usually well aware of what their team members are able to bring to the table, and they put them in a position to use those skills to the fullest extent possible. The strategy can help employees stretch to meet their own goals and set them up for success in their professional futures. 
  • Pacesetting leaders are very involved in the process. They give regular feedback and keep pushing their team members to meet critical goals. They also address any issues as swiftly as possible. 
  • Employees are pushed to new levels of capability and accomplishment. 

The Disadvantages

While pacesetting leadership comes with several key advantages, it also offers a number of disadvantages to the process. 

  • Employees may not receive the feedback that they need to keep achieving at a high level, especially when it comes to direct feedback on the skills they do well with.
  • Employees often exist under a high level of stress. Both leadership and employees are at a high risk for burnout, which means that pacesetting leadership may not be a sustainable strategy.
  • Employee engagement is often low with pacesetting leadership strategies, and employees may not feel like they are valued parts of the whole. 
  • Work often becomes highly repetitive, since there is little opportunity for innovation.
  • If employees don’t have the necessary skills to perform at the high level expected of a pacesetting manager, the entire arrangement can quickly fall apart. 

Unfortunately, pacesetting can often become part of the workplace system. Because it does result in high levels of achievement during that short-term period, management teams often start to expect it from their employees all the time. They may fail to recognize the high level of stress caused by pacesetting leadership, causing low employee engagement at the company as a whole and increasing the risk of high turnover. 

How is Pacesetting Leadership Different From a Traditional Management Style?

Pacesetting leadership requires direct involvement on the part of the manager. Pacesetting managers aren’t dropping assignments on their employees and walking away. Instead, they’re actively involved in the process, working alongside their team members. The goal is for those managers to “set the pace,” which means that they must perform at a high level in order to encourage the same level of performance from their team members.

Pacesetting managers are often less focused on in-depth feedback throughout the project process and more on the goals accomplished. They also tend not to micromanage during the project. As long as deadlines are met, materials are turned in on time, and things get done, pacesetting managers are usually content to let employees manage themselves.

How a Pacesetting Leadership Style Helps Employees

Pacesetting leadership is often a style designed to improve the outcome: that is, to generate results for the company, rather than for individual employees. However, it does, in general, offer several advantages that can help employees get their jobs done and achieve their goals. 

  • Employees are able to function in highly-demanding roles, which can set them up for future opportunities.
  • Employees, in general, have less day-to-day oversight, which means that they can handle their own schedules and job responsibilities. Because pacesetting leadership is results-driven, employees can handle tasks the way they know they perform best, rather than trying to fit themselves into a manager’s demands. 
  • Employees will learn exactly what they are capable of under pressure, which can help prepare them to handle more demanding roles and opportunities in the future. 
  • Pacesetting helps push employees to their full potential since they have little choice but to give their all if they want to meet the deadlines and expectations of their roles. 

When to Use a Pacesetting Leadership Style

Pacesetting leadership is best designed for short-term results from a highly-motivated, highly-skilled team who is prepared for the demands placed on them. It’s not designed as a long-term leadership style, though there are certainly companies in which it becomes one! Make sure that you’re utilizing pacesetting alongside other leadership styles, especially when the pressure gets high. 

In general, pacesetting leadership is best for:

  • Short-term, high-demand projects
  • Teams with high levels of overall competence
  • Teams where everyone knows their role and is ready to perform it

Pacesetting leadership works best when the leader digs in and literally “sets the pace” alongside other members of the team and is willing to go the extra mile along with them.

How to Be a Pacesetting Leader

If you want to be an effective pacesetting leader, make sure you keep these key things in mind: 

  • Plan to only apply pacesetting leadership short term. In general, you will find that you will see far fewer downsides if you only use it as a short-term solution, rather than trying to force your team to adhere to those strategies long term.
  • Give your team the tools that they need to accomplish their job roles effectively. Allow them input and discussion. Work with them to make sure they are able to perform at the high level expected of them, and then give them the freedom to do it. 
  • Always provide high-level leadership and a clear example of what you expect of your team. If you can’t perform at the level expected of your team, they may quickly lose their trust in you, and that can cause a breakdown in communication, engagement, and more. 
  • Provide your team with feedback throughout the course of the project. Make sure that they know that you appreciate their efforts, and give positive feedback as well as constructive criticism whenever possible. 
  • Clearly lay out expectations. Communicate regularly. Make sure that communication does not break down over the course of the project since that could lead to further problems down the road. 

Pacesetting leadership is just one of the six emotional leadership styles you need to utilize in order to be an effective leader. Want to learn more? Contact us today to get a better feel for pacesetting leadership methods and how we can help you accomplish those goals.