Pacesetting is a form of leadership, as described by Daniel Goleman in his six styles of leadership.

A Pacesetting leader is someone who ensures pace and structure within team members and motivates them with clear expectations of quality and strict deadlines.

When and where is it used?

Pacesetting leadership is a powerful way to drive employee initiatives in modern workplaces and help the team push through demanding deadlines. The mode of encouragement of a Pacesetting leader is, "Do as I am doing." Primarily because of the style that emphasizes on achieving timely and high-quality output consistently.

These leaders hold themselves to extreme perfection and also expect their teams to follow through. The primary strength of pacesetting leadership comes from the clarity of the requirement set by the leader of the team. The leader would never ask of anyone that they would be incapable of unless it's not something that's bound by their lack of expertise. Pacesetting leaders derive tremendous intrinsic motivation and use that to drive a change around the people for whom they take accountability. 

It prioritizes performance over excuses and results over reason. Since this doctrine profoundly motivates these individuals, they may not necessarily be receptive to impediments that they do not deem worthy enough of a problem. They might push back on holidays or personal commitments, to prioritize getting the job done. This style of objective clarity serves them well in times of meeting an impossible deadline and running a tight ship.

Pace-setting Leadership
Pacesetting Leadership

Who is more suitable to work with pacesetting leaders?

Young employees who are hungry to learn more tend to do very well with these types of leaders. The enthusiasm of a fresher to put more work hours and get the work done, along with there extremely flexible personal schedule tend to earn brownie points for them with these kinds of leaders. Though this may cause some friction with other employees who believe in fixed work time, a pacesetting leader would never trouble them, if they too can deliver their commitments within the said time. Pacesetters are more motivated and even sympathetic to someone who believes in the most efficient use of their time. What they do not approve of, is merely using a problem as an excuse to procrastinate any particular task, as this pulls down the effort of the whole team which they regularly measure against a ticking clock. 

If you believe the clock doesn't exist for you, the pacesetter will quickly move on to someone for whom it does. They believe in mutual harmony and success, but not at the cost of any one individual's lackadaisical mindset. Pacesetters are very approachable in case of a problem and will even sit with you to provide a workaround, especially if they believe it would save them time. However, if you are someone who likes to play around with things and achieve progress in your way. Every minute you spend not producing definitive results will be regarded as lacking in the eyes of a pacesetter. Though if you prove your novelty by outperforming everyone else in the team through your unique performance capabilities, that ended up pushing the team forward, the leader will in-fact become your evangelist asking others to emulate your pattern.

Positives of Pacesetting Leadership on the team

One of the most significant positives of this style is the capability to accomplish business objectives efficiently. The quick burst of high energy within the team and the frenzy of a high-potential performance will even provide a euphoric sense of achievement that drives the whole team forward to keep persisting harder in the next task. Since the style also emphasizes on the quality of work as much as getting the job done, honesty suddenly becomes a common currency within the team, as there is no time to waste over common courtesy. Teammates start spending more time telling each other the negatives not to disappoint their leader while allowing him to scrutinize their positives. This creates a ripple effect of honesty within the team, and they become one collective trusting unit, who are acutely aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses. 

On combining this awareness of strength and weakness with the motivation to finish things within a deadline, the teammates tend to be better at 

  • Setting their priority of work to prevent time waste
  • Compensating for each other's weakness because that's the shortest way to give excellent quality output
  • Better at gauging each other's competencies and thereby becoming more confident in their work
  • Extremely receptive to honest scrutiny and in-fact expectant of it, to achieve the best output in the shortest time.

All these factors together make them active collaborators who can quickly finish objectives and move on to the next important task. 

Negatives of Pacesetting Leadership on the team

The flipside of the same coin tends to be a resultant work environment. Among the list of Goleman's leadership styles pacesetting seems to be the second most negatively impacted in the workplace. More often than not, the collaborators tend to get consumed by the demand and deadlines that are suddenly imposed upon them, which may come across as a cultural shock for those teams that are not accustomed to this working style. What may further deteriorate this negative cycle would be a lack of clear instructions that are a result of extreme impatience from the leader especially when the team is unable to grasp or understand the requirements and the means to deliver their output fast enough.

Positive and Negatives of Pacesetting leaders 


  1. High achievers 
  2. Orderly and structured
  3. Open-minded to consider a faster workaround
  4. Sets a frenzy of performance within the team


  1. Can overwhelm their teammates with too much rigor
  2. May come across as unempathetic to sentiments
  3. Tend to get authoritative if they cannot enforce their timelines
  4. May interfere too much with people they see as laggers

The most common issues concerning the use of pacesetting leadership are often the time in which it is used. Since it is mostly used in scenarios where fast execution is the key to strategic success, it eliminates problems at the emotional and individual levels. Any collaborator who is incapable of maintaining his pace of performance with the rest of the team will tend to come across as a drudgery. The lack of the emotional side of the equation may make it an unhealthy long term leadership strategy, but good enough to extract significant value out of multiple short-term sprints.

goleman leadership styles
Comparison of Pacesetting Leadership

Comparison of Pacesetting Leadership with other styles

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

Affiliative Leadership and  Pacesetting Leadership

Affiliative Leadership

  • Does not empathize
  • Timeline oriented
  • Emphasis on completion

Pacesetting Leadership

  • Runs with empathy as the cornerstone
  • Bonding and connection-oriented
  • Emphasis on harmony 

Visionary Leadership and Pacesetting Leadership

Visionary Leadership

  • Demands respect to expertise
  • Based on knowledge
  • Focus on execution

Pacesetting Leadership 

  • Demands pace
  • Based on deadlines
  • Emphasis on quality within the period

Coaching Leadership and Pace setting Leadership

Coaching Leadership 

  • Cares about learning outcome
  • Prioritises long term knowledge
  • Patient and nurturing towards growth

Pace-setting Leadership 

  • Cares about deadline
  • Prioritises quality and execution
  • Impatient towards slow progress

Coercive Leadership and Pacesetting leadership

Coercive Leadership

  • Demands compliance
  • Result oriented
  • Emphasis on hierarchy

Pacesetting Leadership 

  • Sets deadlines
  • Timeline oriented
  • Emphasis on quality

Democratic Leadership and Pacesetting Leadership

Democratic Leadership

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

Pacesetting Leadership 

  • Sets deadlines
  • Timeline oriented
  • Emphasis on quality
Pace-setting leader characteristics
Characteristics of pacesetting leaders

Eight characteristics of Pacesetting leaders

1. Leading by example 
Pacesetting believes in leading by example and hence have a stringent moral code for their employees to follow through.
2. Expert taskmasters
They are particular about completing a given task quickly, whether it is theirs or of their team members within a given time. They believe done better than perfect. 
3. Self Critiques
They hold clear expectations for themselves in their mind and have no qualms emulating the same behavior they expect. As structured thinkers, they give their teammates a strong directive to hold themselves accountable at all times. 
4. Committed to winning
They are aware of how their methods won't be sustainable in the long term, in fact, they're here to win the specific yet very attainable goal in the lowest branch of the tree. All they seek is the full commitment from their team to be able to reach it grab it before anyone else. 
5. Time conscious
Pacesetting leaders believe in the absolute value of time and quality; they won't think twice to make any decision that may reinforce this aspect. This often leads slow learners and creatives who tend to take much time to feel into trouble with execution. 
6. Have high standards

When there are so many things to be done, the pacesetting leader would be the first person, why is this not good enough? They like to get things done fast, but not at the cost of compensating their standards. 
7. Agile
As primary stakeholders of the team deadline, they are outstanding judges of time evaluation and task allocation such that, the right task gets to the right people with the appropriate skill set and can get done as soon as possible. 
8. Overwhelming
Though this is not something specific to the pacesetting leadership style, they, however, have a reputation that precedes them for being the demanding taskmaster and may come across as overwhelming.

A simple example of how Pacesetting Leadership plays out

  • Confront with deadlines
  • Help them Understand how their current behavior leads to results that won't get completed within the deadlines 
  • Re-emphasizes how altering their behavior will lead them towards achieving quality output within the deadline

Hi, Ruth, I just spoke with Kristy, and she believes at your current pace you won't be able to deliver all of the marketing collaterals by today, after going through your deliverables, I tend to agree with her (Confront with the fact)    

I am entirely aware of how you are trying to meet your deadlines and that you wouldn't want to be the one holding back our team's marketing campaign. (Emphasize what they want to avoid).

How do I use Pacesetting leadership style?

Before you decide to use this style, you might have to decide as to whether the conditions of the situation are intense enough to warrant the employ of this style of leadership. Though most managers believe the pacesetting direction will be perfect for short term gains, which though it is unless exercised with caution, may lead to talent attrition or a long-lasting impact in your team. Though as we told earlier in our last blog about "Affiliative Leadership", the position of the leader is not so simple as to exercise a predetermined option. It also encompasses the ability to gauge what and when of a situation as to determine the necessary management stages. 

This might also include using methods that produce results, and Pacesetting is one such method which, when used sparsely and at the right moment, may get you out of a seemingly impossible situation.

 A leader is not a job or a title, but often an agent of change. As a change agent, the onus is on you to produce results no matter what the situation is. If you seem yourself backed in the corner by a ticking clock, the Pacesetting leadership may be the right tool to pull your team out of an ever-spiraling workload by giving them a reality check and bringing the house in order!