The Coercive style of leadership was initially described by Daniel Goleman as postulated in his theory of Emotional Intelligence. 

While many leaders are aware of the need to exercise various leadership styles based on their circumstances; this style is something that needs to be applied with much caution and restraint.

The Coercive Leaders always choose to use their hierarchy as the means to enforce or persuade people to get things done. Doing this can be especially useful when the team is undergoing a tough time or the organization is under duress. This style of leadership can also be precious in case of handling ineffective employees or pull through a seemingly impossible situation. It is seen most commonly as the leadership style in high-risk situations such as a chemical plant, or a nuclear reactor where, the orders need to be followed to their utmost precision, lest everyone else faces severe consequences. This style has gradually found its way into Corporate America and is often frowned upon for being too overbearing. However, every tool in a Leader's arsenal only makes them that much more capable of dealing with the changing situations of a modern workforce.

When and where is it used? 

Coercive Leadership
Coercive Leadership

The significant constraints to remember this style of leadership are that; it's efficient when there's a requirement for a drastic change in the output requirements or a sudden situation that demands the explicit following of instructions. This style of leadership leads to the maximum negative impact found in the team members, even more than that of pace-setting leadership. The leader must also reflect calm and poise as to gauge the situation wisely and revert to a more approachable style of leadership such as affiliative or coaching leadership once the crisis has subsided. 

Another popular exercise followed by successful managers includes a post-crisis reward period where they acknowledge that they had initially taken a tough stance and would now like to compensate for it through recognition. One caveat of this approach is that employees might start seeing its motive as vile and cunning. In turn, the leader gets pegged as someone who is trying to "mend fences" rather than act in the best interests of the group. A simple approach to avoid this as a leader would be to start opting for non-monetary incentives that both show that the employee's contributions are acknowledged as well as valued. 

Some example of non-monetary incentives could be anything ranging from a coffee-mug to an award or only a top place on the leaderboard. Human beings are psychologically wired to be receptive towards recognition and affirmation. However, a gross misuse or overuse of this approach would very well provide to be counter-intuitive as employees start losing trust with the leader and start looking down on them. Some successful leaders adopt a quick huddle or a teambuilding session, where they explain with utmost sincerity and honesty about the reality of the situation and why they are doing what they do.

Though this unpleasant news may receive mixed reactions initially, practicing candor is always a virtue in terms of leadership. Even though this may hurt a few sentiments and pave the way for rude comments, mostly the team will learn to accept the reality of the situation and think of their leader as someone "dependable" even in times of intense workload.

Coercive leadership is explicitly evident when it's being implemented within a team. The style is often ruthless, overwhelming, and domineering. As humans, we value our freedom and even coercion based on authority may leave us feeling unpleasant and disgruntled. The employees start seeing their leader as unreasonable and demanding. Especially things may quickly take a negative turn if the leader tends to get consumed by the effectiveness of immediate compliance and continues to pursue this style of leadership, even if the extraneous circumstances do not warrant it. 

Who is more suitable to work with Coercive leaders?

Unlike other affable styles of leadership, there are no "specific type" of people suitable to work with coercion, because as humans, we are wired to bring a certain amount of novel thought process and passion into our job all of which are thoroughly denied by this style. Even though there has been a gradual decline in the number of leaders who employ or appreciate this style to produce results, there do exist such circumstances, which do not leave them any other option. In the case of teams where collaboration isn't as often, and the consensus is rarely a concern, this lack of single goal can be achieved by Coercive Leadership style. There can be a variety of factors that influence collaboration, such as a multi-generational team with multiple perspectives, or a team with varied work styles that renders them unable to communicate clearly with each other. In these kinds of groups, Coercive Leadership can quickly halt unproductive expenditure of time and assign the tasks to whomsoever the leader deems the best fit. 

It is also essential in organizations where there is a considerable risk when anyone collaborator acts autonomously, and hence, the authority is welcomed along with the clarity that it provides. In environments where there's a lack of transparency concerning shared responsibility and collaborators frequently trample each other's toes, Coercive Leadership reinforces an environment where every contributor is painfully aware of what they ought and ought not to do. Coercive leadership is most effective in situations where the employees are ineffective at producing results or are directing their efforts toward the wrong kind of effect. This problem of gross inexperience or incompetence can be gradually decreased by careful monitoring and overseeing their performance. A Coercive Leader never shirks from giving constructive criticism which may prove valuable for those seeking a proper direction to re-orient their purpose. 

Those teams that are more accustomed to working in a lackadaisical pace may also find it hard to quickly adapt to the speed that a dire situation demands, and hence may benefit from Coercive Leadership style, as such employees more often respond to coercion than friendly suggestions. However, since these kinds of leaders only tend to provide orders and instructions, they employees may also start becoming hesitant towards taking up more constructive work, which is in the long-term detrimental to both the team's and their progress.

They may also find their novelty, and their need for self-expression mercilessly suppressed and over-time becomes completely shunted. Though this domineering style can cause a knee-jerk reaction when suddenly implemented, it is beneficial for those teams that desperately need a firm nudge towards a direction that they have to progress.

Pros and cons of Coercive Leadership 

The positives of using this style are the more considerable amount of control the leader gets to exercise over the collaborators. The autonomy that is provided to drive a change though through conformity is nonetheless compelling, especially in times of trouble. 


  • Provides a sense of control to the leader
  • There's an effective increase in the short-term output of the team
  • Little friction in deciding a course of action as the leader holds ultimate authority
  • Prevents missteps in high-risk situations


  • It is extremely demotivating
  • It is toxic and extremely inflexible towards employee predicaments and situations
  • Uses fear to motivate actions, which may result in employee attrition or defiance.
  • Kills any scope for originality and novel ideas within the team

However, the flip side to this equation is the overall negative impact that this style has on the employees. The method is inherently inflexible and offers little in terms of motivation or reward. This also turns collaborators from bringing any sense of novelty into their responsibilities and transforms them into automatons, thereby absolving them from any accountability as long as they adhere to the sequence of instructions as provided by the leader. 

Coercive Leadership and Daniel Goleman Styles of leadership
Coercive Leadership and Daniel Goleman Styles of leadership

Difference between Coercive Leadership and other Goleman leadership styles

As Daniel Goleman asserted, these six seem to be the most common leadership styles that were demonstrated under the managers he studied. 

Pacesetting Leadership and Coercive Leadership

Pace-setting Leadership 

  • Cares about the deadline
  • Prioritizes quality and execution
  • Impatient towards slow progress

Coercive Leadership 

  • Cares about authority
  • Prioritizes compliance
  • Intolerant towards insubordination

Affiliative Leadership and Coercive Leadership

Affiliative Leadership

  • Cares about harmony
  • Bonding and connection-oriented
  • Helps form connections

Coercive Leadership

  • Cares about the outcome
  • Instruction oriented
  • Demands compliance

Visionary Leadership and Coercive Leadership

Visionary Leadership

  • Expects team to execute
  • Based on knowledge
  • Focus on execution

Coercive Leadership 

  • Aims to help the team perform
  • Based on authority
  • Focused on hierarchy

Coaching Leadership and Coercive leadership

Coaching Leadership 

  • Sets goals
  • Help see mistakes
  • Emphasis on new skills

Coercive  Leadership

  • Demands compliance
  • Looks untoward shortcomings
  • Emphasis on hierarchy

Democratic Leadership  and Coercive Leadership 

Democratic Leadership

  • Arrives at a consensus
  • Collaboration and decision-oriented 
  • Emphasis on common goals

Coercive Leadership 

  • Makes decisions alone
  • Gives weight to orders
  • Emphasis on driving results
Coercive Leadership characteristics
Coercive Leadership Characteristics

6 Characteristics of Coercive Leaders

Intolerant - A coercive leader rarely keen to listen to any excuses. If the assigned task has not bee followed through, there is little room for justification on the employee's behalf. Either the results were produced, or they were not. 

Practical - Since this leadership style revolves around improving the employee output, once the style has been implemented, there's an apparent increase in productivity, and that helps short-term leverage results.

Fair - These leaders have standardized rules to be followed by every employee, and everyone one gets penalized irrespective of to what extent they broke or "bent" the rules. 

Stubborn - These Leaders are more often than not set in their ways and methods of approaching a task and only demand a precise result as per their instructions. Any collaborator who wishes to pursue a novel or original idea will be met with impregnable defiance. 

Unconventional - Though they are set in their ways to achieve results, these leaders display a blatant disregard for the traditional method of gauging people's strength and weaknesses. They can quickly recognize which person is most suitable for a position and will deliver the fastest result. 

Unpopular - Due to their aggressive management style, they may quickly lose any likeability with their employees and may even be subjected to direct or indirect criticism 

A simple example of how Coercive Leadership plays out

  • Communicate with authority
  • Help them understand how their current result is inadequate 
  • Emphasize how not achieving them will have undesirable consequences

Hi, Pete, I think your designs can get much better. I want you to include more modern illustrations. (communicate with authority) 

I am entirely aware of how you only want the best designs for our site, but to be honest with you, after looking at our website, even I would instead purchase from our competitor. (Help them understand how their current result is inadequate) 

I have come across a few tools that I have e-mailed to you. I hope you go through them and make the specified changes, If not I might have to reconsider your recommendation for a promotion. (Re-emphasize how not achieving them will have undesirable consequences) 

How do I use the Coercive leadership style? 

Though some employees may appreciate the clarity of having specific instructions about what to do every day, It comes across as extremely intrusive for the rest. When this practice continues, it will not only get categorized as an impediment but also starts causing friction to your employees' everyday workflow. 

However, though there are apparent detrimental aspects to this style of leadership, it tends to shine the brightest in times that require fast and immediate execution. The problematic part about this style is not the style in itself, but the leaders who lose perspective while using it. As a modern leader, your employee morale and trust are the strongest intrinsic motivators that tend to pay off big in the long-term. Though you may see a short spike in the performance when they are coerced into compliance, it's detrimental and unwarranted for healthy team building. The managers who tend to overestimate the scope of a problem may succumb to over-exaggeration and hence start abusing their team members. If practiced with calculated and surgical precision, it is one of the most robust toolsets that can help a modern manager, overcome even tough times!