It can become overwhelming when trying to decide on a leadership style that will suit you and your workplace best. There are so many different styles, all with their own techniques and potential learning requirements.
It can be tempting to think, “why can’t I just tell people what to do?”
As it turns out that is, in fact, a leadership style known as Coercive Leadership. If you are wondering what might be the upsides and downsides to using this type of leadership, you have come to the right place. This article will also cover the ways in which you can wield this leadership style in the best way, as well as when and why it should be avoided.
What is Coercive Leadership?
Coercive leadership can best be characterized by the phrase “do what I tell you.” In this leadership style, the person in charge will be dictating how and when everything will be done.
Subordinates are expected to follow the leader's directions exactly; failure to do so will be met with negative consequences. These leaders will often ask workers to do things without explaining why they are doing it. Employees are expected to perform regardless of whether or not they understand the reasoning behind what they are being asked to do.
In his article titled “Leadership That Gets Results,” published in the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman outlined 6 of what he has observed to be the main leadership styles. They are as follows: Coercive, Authoritative, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, and Coaching.
As a psychologist, the majority of his research has been based around emotional intelligence and how it relates to leadership. In Goleman's opinion, leaders need to be knowledgeable in many leadership styles. They then need to be able to adapt their methods according to the needs of the situation. Goleman also suggests using multiple leadership styles in conjunction to get the best results.
In Goleman’s opinion, Coercive leadership is one of the least effective leadership styles. Moreover, he has observed that its toll on morale, and turnover rates, are primarily negative. However, he says that it can be useful to “break failed business habits and shock people into new ways of working.”
Characteristics of a Coercive Leader
Someone using this style of leadership will be very easy to spot. They will be the only one in command, wielding all of the authority. They must possess a certain level of confidence, both in themselves and in their ability to know what is best.
Because of the nature of Coercive Leadership, people using it will frequently not be very well liked. These types of leaders can come across as bossy or domineering. It is certainly not a good leadership choice if you are trying to build or foster personal relationships with the people that you work with.
- Direct Communication
There is no question where directions will be coming from within this leadership style. Expectations, rules, and procedures will be clearly laid out with no room for interpretation. As a result, decisions can be made quickly and without requiring input from the group at large.
- Increased Productivity
A Coercive leader can get results fast. In the short term, telling people exactly what to do and threatening negative consequences for failure can be an effective way to jumpstart productivity. There are no excuses for why something didn't get completed when given explicit instructions.
- Better adherence to rules
This style of leadership can be very helpful in workplaces that are dangerous or have many legal regulations. Having workers that are doing things the way they should be done can lead to a much safer workplace. A strong manager can force workers into compliance for the benefit of everyone.
- Ineffective in the long term
While a Coercive leader can get results quickly, it is not a sustainable leadership method for an extended period of time. Employees will eventually get burnt out and unmotivated. A sense of trust and mutual respect is vital to long term employee retention. Managing through fear and strict control only works for so long. At some point, employees may begin to rebel.
- Harmful to morale
The needs and feelings of employees are not considered by these leaders. Although this may be good for efficiency, it will negatively impact the well-being of the staff over time. When people are constantly told what to do, with no regard for their skill level or potential ability to contribute, it can lead to burnout and a high turnover rate.
There may be situations that arise for any leader that require a level of flexibility. This can be a problem for someone using the Coercive leadership style, as they tend to lack this ability. If an issue presents itself that is outside of the expertise of the leader, they might struggle to solve it. Consulting with employees and problem solving together can give results that one person alone may not have been able to come up with. As a leader, it is vital to be able to recognize the best way to solve problems and have the flexibility to adapt to any situation.
How to Implement a Coercive Leadership Style
- Clearly communicate rules and expectations
In order for this leadership style to work at all, the person using it must be able to communicate exactly what it is they are expecting people to do. Without clarity in communication, a Coercive leader is nothing more than a bully. Workers will not know what is expected of them if they are not told in a way that they can understand and act on.
- Give Praise when it is due
Since Coercive leadership can sometimes come off as a bit harsh, it is important to remember that a little positive reinforcement will go a long way. Motivating people exclusively through threats of negative consequences will only be so effective. Balancing that with rewards for good work can help offset some of the negative aspects of this leadership style.
When to use it
- The job has extensive safety regulations
There are obviously workplaces where this will be more relevant than in others. But, in the case that things must be done a certain way, either because it is the safest or because it is the legal requirement, a Coercive leader can be highly effective. Staff will be more likely to follow the guidelines because there is no tolerance for deviation from this leader’s directions.
- New company leadership is in place
If there are new company owners, management, or a merger, using Coercive leadership can be useful for asserting your position as the new head honcho. It may be challenging to deal with staff that are accustomed to a certain way of doing things. Coercive leadership can force people to do what you ask without resistance.
- Workers are inexperienced or unmotivated
When there are many employees who lack experience or who are lacking motivation, Coercive leadership may be a good choice. While some people may take issue with being told what to do, it may be necessary if they do not possess the skills or knowledge to get the job done. A Coercive leader with a high level of expertise can take the reigns and compensate for the lack of experience in the workforce.
- A short term goal needs to be reached
If you have a shorter than usual deadline or just need to meet a quota, this leadership style may be an appropriate choice. Where other forms of leadership may take longer to get results, a Coercive leader can get workers to focus and complete tasks rapidly.
When to avoid
- With a team of highly skilled employees
Workers with extensive knowledge or experience in the field will probably not respond very well to this style of leadership. A more collaborative leadership style that would allow them to lend their skills to the decision making process would be more appropriate. A Coercive leader could also push these employees to find a job elsewhere. Losing long term, valuable employees is something that any company should try to avoid.
- If you cannot afford to lose employees
When used too often or for too long of a period, Coercive leadership can lead to an increased turnover rate. For a bigger organization, this may not be an issue. However, for a small company, or one that requires staff with specialized skills who will be difficult to replace, this style of leadership can cause serious staffing issues.
Coercive Leadership Examples
There are a number of industries where Coercive leaders can be frequently found. Manufacturing and construction are two excellent examples. Worksites and factories can be hazardous environments to work in. As such, workers must follow safety protocols and do their jobs properly in order to not put others at risk. Someone using this leadership style will be effective in ensuring that this happens. There does not need to be room for the input of the people doing the work as it pertains to the rules of the workplace.
Jobs within the medical field can also benefit from aspects of Coercive leadership. When it comes to providing care to patients, there must be consistency and high standards. There is usually a right way for things to be done. Failure to follow guidelines can put patients' lives at risk. A strong handed leader can help to ensure that the appropriate care and actions are being taken.
Sometimes the simplest answer can be the best one. Although it is one of the more basic leadership styles, Coercive Leadership can definitely have its place in a manager’s repertoire. That being said, it is important not to overuse this leadership style, as it can be severely detrimental to the work environment and morale.