Affiliative Leadership – Michael Jordan’s Key to Championships?

Affiliative Leadership - Goleman
In the Harvard Business Review article Leadership That Gets Results, Daniel Goleman lists six effective leadership styles. Did Michael Jordan’s championships come through affiliative leadership?
Many argue that Michael Jordon is the greatest athlete of all time. As good as he was, for a time, championships alluded him. Achieving his first championship required a new style of leadership.
In 1989, Phil Jackson took over as the head coach for Jordon’s Chicago Bulls. While the coaching change disappointed Jordan, he eventually became fiercely loyal to Jackson. Jordon’s loyalty was so strong that it drove him to retire after the Bulls fired Jackson in 1998.
Jackson’s success came through the introduction of the “Triangle Offense.” The approach allowed the championship Chicago Bulls to come together as a team. It was no longer an offensive scheme designed around one superstar player. Jordon’s titles came through a system that often took the ball out of his hands.
What would convince a superstar that his success would come from the people around him? Affiliative leadership.

People Come First

Goleman describes affiliate leadership as the “people come first” approach to leadership. Leaders bring people together to achieve a common goal. Yet, dreams alone don’t win championships. Recognizing the humanity in those we lead is crucial.
How was Phil Jackson able to convince his superstar to abandon the star-focused approach? He first formed a relationship with Jordon. Jordon was more than his top-producing asset. He saw him as a person.
Jackson’s approach turned Jordon the skeptic into a loyal friend. They built a friendship that would last well beyond their time on the court.

Can’t We All Get Along?

Bringing top talent together often comes with challenges.
Jackson knew the impact respect had on effective teams. He led his team with at least two principles that fostered respect in the group. First, he would check his ego at the door and require his players to do the same. Second, he led with compassion to bring others together. He often found that a few kind words would dissolve the most hardened barriers in the team. Positive feedback is a powerful motivating force.
It seems pretty basic, but people who like and respect each other collaborate. They talk.

Model Vulnerability

In “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” Patrick Lencioni discusses familiar team dysfunctions. He lists the absence of trust as the top dysfunction. Teams can not reach their full potential when trust is missing from the equation.

Trust builds the foundation for successful teams.

Affiliate leaders know that a foundation of trust requires transparency. This comes through modeling vulnerability themselves. Jackson saw this firsthand. He recalls, “the more I spoke from the heart, the more players could hear me and benefit from what I gleaned.”


Shortcomings of Affiliative Leadership

Goleman’s research found affiliative leadership has a positive impact. However, it’s not without shortcomings.
A focus on keeping people happy and creating harmony might create blinders. As a result, we may avoid constructive criticism. Without this critical feedback loop, we may overlook improvement areas.
Affiliative leadership is not for every situation. It is best applied when trust is missing, morale is low, or a team is stuck in dysfunction. It is most effective when used in combination with authoritative leadership.

What Is Affiliative Leadership?

Affiliative leadership is a style that focuses on the people before the tasks or goals. The leader builds solid emotional health within the team. Consequently, teams fully engage when emotional needs are met, and harmony exists.
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