Pacesetter Leadership: What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?

Leadership Advisory

Today we explore the practical and theoretical aspects of a pacesetting leadership style. We will look at when this style is used, how it can be implemented, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the style, and also the definition.

What is Pacesetting Leadership?

Pacesetting leadership happens when a leader sets examples of high quality, high pace, and high performance. This type of leader values results above anything else and expects team members to follow the example they have set. In general, this leadership style does not bring the best results for employee engagement in the long term, but serves quite well to reach short-term goals.

Pacesetter Leadership: What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?

Pacesetting Leadership Style at a Glance

As the name suggests, leaders with a pacesetting style set the pace that they want the organization to run on. The idea is that team members pay attention to how the pacesetting leader does things and matches their quality, performance, and speed. The pacesetting leader then expects the team to do as they have modeled. The team is required to meet the leader’s high expectations, and if the team does not meet these standards there will likely be problems.

A pacesetting leader needs to ensure that they do not assign a task to an employee who is not equipped to complete the task well. Therefore, it is essential not to rely on a pacesetting style in isolation. An effective leader uses more than one style of leadership.

What does the word ‘pacesetting’ mean?

When looking at a specific definition, we need to include the following two points:

  • Something or someone that sets the pace.
  • Someone, something, or an entity that is progressive and setting trends that others want to follow.

What Are the Elements of Pacesetting Leadership?

Pacesetter Leadership: What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?


The most important underlying thing to remember is that a pacesetting leader leads by example – they set trends. When someone cannot keep up with the trend the leader sets, they are left behind.


Pacesetting leaders tend to set lofty goals that are sensitive to time. Such a leader, therefore, requires initiative to get high-quality work done quickly. In some cases, where an employee lacks the necessary skills to meet the leader’s expectations, they might have to make way for the leader to take over. It is, therefore, essential for this style of leadership to have highly competent employees employed in the right team.

Requirements are Communicated Clearly

Ambiguity is unacceptable for a pacesetting leader. An effective leader in this leadership style cannot have unclear requirements for their team – high expectations cannot be met if they are not understood. Everyone needs to know what this leader is expecting employees to do.

Furthermore, many employees require someone to provide guidance along the way so that they can successfully reach the end goal. Thus, an effective pacesetting leader does not micromanage, but checks in and ensures that the high-quality work that is being done is done correctly.

Pacesetter Leadership: What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?


The pacesetting leadership style calls for someone who is highly self-motivated. The pacesetting leader sets expectations for high standards that are met on each major project quickly and efficiently. They expect a skilled team that is not prone to employee burnout and is eager to learn and apply their new skills for the sake of rapid growth and excellence. Pacesetting leadership works from the assumption that their highly skilled team is at the same level of self-motivation and that this will ensure job satisfaction and high-quality work.

Pacesetter Leadership: What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Pacesetting Leadership?

Advantages of Pacesetting Leadership

The pacesetting leadership style has some significant advantages to consider.

Issues are addressed quickly

Whenever issues arise, they are most often dealt with quickly and efficiently. This means that updates are required regularly and that problems do not spiral out of control but are addressed as they arise.

Highlighting the competencies of a highly skilled and experienced team

A pacesetting leader expects a team with experience who is highly skilled. This kind of team already knows where their strengths lie and how to make the most of the strengths of each team member.

Business goals are achieved quickly

As we have mentioned before, pacesetting leadership is better suited to high-quality output short-term goals.

Pacesetter Leadership: What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?

Cons of Pacesetting Leadership

Here we look at the fundamental disadvantages that pacesetting leadership can have.

Pacesetting should not become part of the system

Pacesetting leaders can become complacent and hire other pacesetters who can polarize the work environment. It can also lead to only fellow pacesetters being promoted which would mean that after a while the management team might all be following the pacesetting style of leadership. This can have a significant impact on the company culture.

Employee Engagement is low

In many of these situations where a healthy working environment is lacking the team will not feel like a team. Building team morale and establishing relationships are not prioritized. Where there is an extreme focus on high standards, constant improvement, and quick work, employees are more likely to burn out.

Employees receive little or no feedback

When a project is being threatened, pacesetting leaders work either by taking over or getting rid of poor performers. This is not good for building team morale.

Work becomes repetitive and boring

When work is entirely result-oriented, it can quickly become dull and boring. This type of leader doesn’t value innovation or creativity much and is more concerned about deadlines. It is not a long-term leadership style.

Trust is lost

Ordinarily speaking trust is not very high in a team that has a pacesetting leader. This has an impact on productivity because team members are not confident in their work – they spend a lot of time second-guessing their work. Furthermore, the manager does not trust the team either.

Employees can feel stressed, overwhelmed, and unmotivated

Teams that are under this style of leadership can quickly fall to pieces when every team member is not at the top of their game already (intrinsically motivated and highly skilled). This is not an environment suited to employees who want learning opportunities and guidance in their work. Furthermore, criticism from some belonging to this style of leadership leads to team members losing self-esteem.

Pacesetter Leadership: What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?

How to Improve Pacesetting Leadership?

As we have mentioned, pacesetting leadership is better suited to a highly motivated team that needs to achieve quick results without a lot of direction. Regardless, there are some considerations that can improve your experience with this style.

  • Pacesetting leadership needs to be used sparingly. Disadvantages only arise when it is applied long-term.
  • Lead by example always. Some of the only examples of pacesetting leadership that are successful are those who never fail to show that they are exactly what they claim to be and what they expect their staff to be.
  • Show the team trust and do not micromanage.
  • Ensuring that employees have regular feedback through performance evaluations so that they are clear on where they stand and where improvement is needed.

Overall, pacesetting leadership should not be the only part of your arsenal as a leader. It is meant to be used occasionally for specific projects only.

Pacesetter Leadership: What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?

Why pacesetting leadership is important

There are some elements of pacesetting leadership that have significance in a professional environment, and we can explore these by taking a closer look.

Underlining performance and time aspects

The pacesetting leader underpins the importance of timeliness and performance. It is no secret that delays and poor performance are bad no matter how you look at them. Needless to say, both of these elements will be essential to any business function. Any leadership style has advantages and disadvantages; what is important here is to capitalize on the advantages and to limit the disadvantages of pacesetting leadership. Choosing the right time and project for this style of leadership is therefore essential.

Focus on excellence and Model that.

Successful examples of pacesetting often revolve around what is modeled to staff.

When should the pacesetting leadership style be used?

The pacesetting leadership style can be used when there is a need for extra emphasis on time. In projects where high-quality delivery is more important than is usually the norm in an organization. In certain circumstances where morale is already low, examples of pacesetting leadership can be useful to show the workforce what is possible. Pacesetting leadership is, of course, most effective when used with other leadership styles as no such style should be used in isolation.

Pacesetter Leadership: What is the Pacesetting Leadership Style?

Which are the Goleman leadership styles?

It is difficult to speak about leadership styles without mentioning Daniel Goleman, so let us look at the styles that Goleman identifies:

  • Coercive leadership style
  • Authoritative leadership style
  • Affiliative leadership style
  • Democratic leadership style
  • Pacesetting leadership style
  • Coaching leadership style

Being able to implement many of these leadership styles in order to adapt to circumstances and other factors can be beneficial to any business. We have provided further detail on some of these elements below.

Coaching leadership style

This style involves coaching team members through development throughout their careers and to become the best possible versions of themselves. This takes a lot of time and requires a leader to have skills in positive people interaction. This style is only effective if employees are open to being coached.

Pacesetting leadership style

This style is the one we have been discussing.

Democratic leadership style

In this style a team is fully involved in decision-making. Any team member can present ideas and make suggestions to leaders. Emotional intelligence in this style is vital, but it can be time-consuming and can be too slow in fast-paced environments.

Affiliative Leadership Style

The focus for these leaders lies in people and relationships. Again, emotional intelligence is required for these kinds of leaders to succeed. A leader builds bonds with team members which in turn keeps team members happy. Harmony and trust are common in an affiliative leader’s team. Rewards, recognition, and feedback are important here as well.

Authoritative Leadership Style

This leadership style is focused on the long-term vision and is often called the visionary leadership style. This kind of leader must have an appreciation for the big picture – they are also able to share this vision efficiently with the rest of the organization. A leader who is authoritative can communicate effectively in a way that inspires others.

Coercive Leadership Style

Emotional intelligence in this leadership style is usually not that strong. This leader makes all decisions and only orders their team according to decisions that have already been made. Control is vital to this leadership style and this includes clarity on expectations, roles, and rules. This style can be beneficial to teams where skills are lacking but it can also result in micromanagement which has a negative influence on employee engagement.