In 2001, Daniel Goleman published a book called Primal Leadership. In it, he posits that there are six leadership styles –Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Commanding, and Pacesetting.
Of course, none of these styles are hardcoded, and no leader should stick to any one of them all the time. But a good leader must have the ability to exhibit traits of whichever style is best suited to the present situation and will get the best out of their team in that situation.
In the pacesetting leadership style, the leader:
When pacesetting, you expect high-intensity performance from your team.
It should be used when you want to get quick results out of a highly motivated team.
Pacesetting is best implemented when time is of the essence. That is to say, there is a lot that needs to be done and it needs to be done quickly.
But to be successful, the leader requires a highly skilled team that knows what to do, can execute at a high level, and needs very little management. The leader is not going to meddle much in individual team members’ work, because that would slow things down. They are focused on one thing: results.
And what’s more:
In short, their instruction is simple: “Do as I do, and do it NOW.” Like a pacesetter in a race, they expect their team to be in step behind them so that they can lead the whole team across the finish line.
Now, knowing what we know about pacesetting leadership, let’s take a look at a few hypotheticals of how pacesetting might work in a sales environment.
It’s easy for sales teams to slip into poor performance. Everyone has a down spell, and oftentimes a whole team can fall at one time.
If you’re finding this happening, it might be a good idea to try out pacesetting leadership. Here’s how:
For example, say you were tracking behind for your Q4 numbers and needed to generate more top-of-funnel pipeline to get where you needed to be.
As a sales leader, you might say to your team: “ok folks, we need to each generate 10 opportunities by the end of the month. I’m going to get in the trenches too, and get a bonus 10 for the team.”
Then, just get out of the way and let your team do their thing. Remember: the key to pacesetting leadership is having a team who already knows how to execute at a high level.
Messaging is hard to get right, and even harder to keep it consistent. If you’re pushing for a year-end goal and you know certain messaging works, then pacesetting leadership might work.
For example, say you’re tracking behind for the end of the year, you laid out the new messaging, and a rep was still using something off-message.
A pacesetting leadership approach might be: pulling them aside and telling them: “I do appreciate your dedication to being innovative, but now is not the time for that. We have determined that our script closes deals 30% of the time, and that’s what we need. When you go off-script, you get into new conversations and you need different collateral, and all of that extends the sales cycle. Right now, I need you to close 10 deals in this very limited time frame, or it’s going to hurt us by 12%. So let’s stick to the script for now, and once we get through this period we can get back to being experimental.”
The key here is knowing what you have to do, pushing your team to do it, and limiting the timeframe for the pace. We’ll see in a second that burnout is a major downside of pacesetting leadership, and the main reason why it shouldn't be used all the time.
Let’s say your team had a slow couple of quarters in 2020, like most sales teams across the world. They were feeling a little defeated and a little deflated.
Here’s how pacesetting leadership could help.
The whole idea here is that you can often reinvigorate a sales team by injecting urgency and, yes, some anxiety and pressure into the process. Pacesetting leadership is not only a good way to do this, but is also a good way to achieve your outcome at the same time.
Pacesetting leadership is to be called into action only when needed.
As great as pacesetting sounds (and can be, when used correctly!), it does have its limitations. Pacesetting leadership is to be deployed as a response to exigent circumstances and is not meant to be sustained for a long time. Given its high intensity, it takes a toll on team members over time.
It’s best to move on from this style of leadership when:
Let me put it this way, pacesetting leadership—like everything else—is a tool. It depends on how you use it. A hammer can build a pretty birdhouse… but it can also smash one to bits.
Pacesetting leadership has a lot to offer. It can push your team to achieve business goals quickly. But at the same time, people aren’t robots, and there is a limit to how much anyone can operate at high-intensity levels. As a leader, you must be aware of that.
You need to use pacesetting when the time is right, as discussed in previous sections. For other times, you need to embody one of the other five styles developed by Goleman, and you can read more about all of them here. If you think it would help, push your managers for some sales manager training.
Use these leadership styles wisely, and your team will follow you anywhere.
Spencer is the product marketing manager at LevelJump. He comes from the world of content and loves helping B2B SaaS companies find exactly the right people who love a product, and figuring out exactly how to tell that product story so it resonates and compels action. You can find him on LinkedIn.