Pacesetting Leadership Style: Pros/Cons and Examples

What Is Pacesetting Leadership?

Pacesetting leadership is a leadership style characterized by a leader who sets high standards and expectations for their team members and leads by example.

This style of leadership is often associated with a leader who is highly driven, achievement-oriented, and focused on delivering results quickly. Pacesetters typically have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish and expect their team to meet or exceed their standards and business goals.

Key Characteristics Of Pacesetting Style Of Leadership

Pacesetting leadership is a style characterized by several key characteristics. Here are the main principles of pacesetting leadership:

High Standards

Pacesetting leaders set exceptionally high performance standards and expectations for their team members. They have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and push their team to meet or exceed these standards.

Leading by Example

Pacesetters are hands-on business leaders who lead by example. They actively engage in tasks and demonstrate the behavior, work ethic, and commitment they expect from their team members.


Pacesetting leaders are focused on results and achievements. They prioritize delivering outcomes quickly and efficiently and emphasize the importance of meeting deadlines.

Limited Guidance

Pacesetters may provide minimal guidance and coaching to their team members. They often assume that their team is already capable of meeting the high standards they’ve set.


Pacesetting leadership is characterized by a fast-paced and demanding environment. Team members are expected to keep up with the leader’s pace and deliver results promptly.

High Competence

Pacesetting leaders are typically highly competent and skilled in their respective roles. They have a strong belief in their own capabilities and may expect their team members to possess similar levels of competence.

Self-Motivated Team

This leadership style is most effective when leading a team of self-motivated and skilled individuals who can work independently and thrive in a high-performance culture.

Potential For Burnout

Pacesetting leadership can be demanding and stressful for team members, potentially leading to burnout and decreased morale if the high expectations are sustained over the long term.

Narrow Scope

Pacesetting leaders tend to focus on immediate goals and results, sometimes to the detriment of other aspects of team dynamics, such as team cohesion and long-term development. Lofty goals may be a part of this scope.


The effectiveness of pacesetting leadership depends on the context and the specific needs and capabilities of the team. It may not be suitable for all situations or teams.

It’s important to use pacesetting leadership judiciously and be aware of its potential drawbacks, such as reduced team morale and the risk of burnout. Effective leadership often involves a combination of leadership styles, adapting to the needs of the situation and the team.

A female leader using pacesetting leadership style in a fast-paced sales environment.
Photo by Rebrand Cities on

Is Pacesetting Leadership An Effective Leadership Style?

Pacesetting leadership can be effective in certain situations and with specific types of teams, but it also has its limitations and potential drawbacks. Its effectiveness depends on the context and the characteristics of the team being led. Here are some considerations:

Effective Scenarios for Pacesetting Leadership:

  1. Quick Decision-Making: Pacesetting leadership is effective when quick decision-making and rapid execution are crucial, such as in emergency situations or fast-paced industries.
  2. Self-Motivated and Skilled Teams: It works well with teams that are already highly motivated, skilled, and capable of working independently. In such cases, team members appreciate high standards and are driven to meet them without a good example of the work desired.
  3. Short-Term Goals: Pacesetting can be useful for achieving short-term goals or projects with well-defined objectives and deadlines.
  4. High Competence: In environments where the leader is highly competent and can set a strong example, pacesetting leadership can be effective in driving performance.

Potential Disadvantages Of Pacesetting Leadership:

  1. Burnout: Pacesetting leadership can lead to burnout among members of the team due to the constant pressure to meet demanding standards and deadlines. Lack of empathy from management combined with meeting a leader’s high expectations can also lead to increased burnout. 
  2. Reduced Morale: It may result in reduced morale and job satisfaction if the focus on high standards overshadows other aspects of a healthy work environment, such as team cohesion and individual growth.
  3. Limited Adaptability: Pacesetters may be less adaptable to changing circumstances, which can be problematic in situations that require flexibility and creativity with little direction.
  4. Ineffective with Diverse Teams: It may not work well with teams of varying skill levels and motivations, as some team members may struggle to meet the high standards set by the leader.
  5. Lack of Coaching and Development: Pacesetting leaders often provide minimal guidance and coaching, which can hinder the professional development of team members.

In summary, pacesetting leadership is a double-edged sword. While it can be effective in certain scenarios, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Effective leadership often involves a mix of different leadership styles tailored to the specific needs of the team and the situation.

Leaders should be aware of the potential drawbacks of pacesetting leadership and use it judiciously, combining it with other leadership styles as needed to create a balanced and productive work environment.

Examples Of Pacesetting Leadership In Effective Roles

  1. Emergency Response Team:
    • Scenario: A natural disaster, such as a hurricane or wildfire, has occurred, and an emergency response team is mobilized to provide aid and rescue services.
    • Leadership Style: The leader sets high standards for response time, coordination, and effectiveness. They lead by example, working tirelessly and expecting the same level of dedication from the team. 
  2. Sales Team:
    • Scenario: In competitive sales environments, a company aims to increase revenue through its sales team.
    • Leadership Style: The sales leader sets aggressive sales targets and expects salespeople to meet or exceed them. They are a top-performing salesperson themselves and motivate the team by demonstrating their success.
  3. Tech Start-Up:
    • Scenario: A tech start-up is racing to bring a new product to market in a highly competitive industry.
    • Leadership Style: The founder or leader sets high standards for product development speed, quality, and innovation. They work alongside the team, leading by example in terms of dedication and work ethic.
  4. Sports Coaching:
    • Scenario: A professional sports team is preparing for a championship game.
    • Leadership Style: The coach sets rigorous training schedules, high-performance standards, and strict discipline. They push athletes to their physical and mental limits to achieve peak performance.
  5. Military Operations:
    • Scenario: A military operation is underway, and precision and timeliness are crucial for success.
    • Leadership Style: Military commanders set and enforce strict orders and high standards for discipline and execution. The expectation is for every member to follow orders precisely and efficiently.
  6. Manufacturing and Production:
    • Scenario: A manufacturing company is producing high-demand consumer electronics.
    • Leadership Style: The production manager sets aggressive targets for output and quality control. They expect employees to meet strict production schedules and maintain product quality standards.
  7. Research and Development Teams:
    • Scenario: A tech company is developing a groundbreaking product.
    • Leadership Style: The project manager sets high goals for innovation and strict timelines for project completion. Team members are pushed to develop new solutions quickly and efficiently.
  8. E-commerce Fulfillment Centers:
    • Scenario: An e-commerce business experiences a surge in orders, especially during the holiday season.
    • Leadership Style: The fulfillment center manager sets high standards for order processing speed and accuracy. Team members are expected to meet or exceed these standards to ensure timely delivery to customers.

In each of these examples, pacesetting work is applied at a high level to motivate and drive the team toward achieving demanding objectives.

However, it’s important to recognize that this leadership style can have drawbacks, such as potential burnout and reduced morale. Good leaders need to balance high standards with support, coaching, and understanding of individual capabilities to ensure long-term success and team well-being.

An emergency room team benefits from pacesetting leadership styles in emergency situations.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

The Goleman Leadership Styles

The Goleman Styles of Leadership, developed by the psychologist and author Daniel Goleman, are a framework that categorizes leadership behaviors into six distinct styles. These styles are based on the emotional intelligence of leaders and how they interact with their teams. The six Goleman Leadership Styles are:

  1. Coercive Leadership: This style involves a coercive leader who uses a top-down, command-and-control approach. They demand immediate compliance, and their primary focus is on achieving immediate results. Coercive leadership is most effective in crisis situations but can be counterproductive in many other scenarios due to its authoritative and inflexible nature.
  2. Authoritative Leadership: An authoritative leader provides a clear vision and direction for the team. They inspire and motivate by setting a compelling vision and giving team members the autonomy to achieve it. This style works well in situations where a bold new direction is needed and when the leader’s expertise is respected.
  3. Affiliative Leadership: Affiliative leaders prioritize building strong emotional bonds within the team. It is considered an emotional leadership style. They value teamwork, harmony, and the well-being of team members. This style is effective for building trust, improving morale, and fostering a positive work environment.
  4. Democratic Leadership: A democratic leader involves the right team members in decision-making and values their input. They seek consensus and collaboration, making it an effective style when diverse perspectives and buy-in are essential for success.
  5. Pacesetting Leadership: This type of leader sets high standards, leads by example, and expects team members to meet or exceed these standards. This style can be effective in fast-paced environments but may lead to burnout if not balanced with support and guidance.
  6. Coaching Leadership: A coaching leader focuses on developing the long-term potential of team members. They provide guidance, feedback, and opportunities for growth. This style is effective for individuals who require development and for building strong, skilled teams over time.

It’s important to note that Goleman’s research and writings emphasize the idea that effective leaders use a combination of these styles, depending on the situation and the needs of their team. Goleman was a firm believer that a great leader is one who is emotionally intelligent and can adapt their leadership style to fit the circumstances.

What Style Of Leader Are You?

Throughout the life cycle of your career, you may notice yourself adapt and evolve into different leadership styles. Every new leader starts with a certain leadership style, but these can evolve depending on company culture, what kind of team you’re leading, what leadership skills are most natural for you, and applying the right leadership style to the right circumstances.

There is no correct leadership style that will apply to every professional circumstance you have. Senior leaders are often the most skilled at applying effective leadership styles to the appropriate situations, and this is a skill that comes with experience. Learning more about your own persona leadership style and what your team responds to the best will set you up for future success as a manager or leader.

A construction manager uses pacesetting leadership style to effectively manage workers in a high-stress situation.
Photo by Pixabay on

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