What Is Coercive Leadership?

What Is Coercive Leadership?

Coercive leadership is a leadership style that was originally outlined in Daniel Goleman’s Theory of Emotional Intelligence. It describes a type of leader recognized by their competitive, demanding nature.

A coercive working environment is one in which threats are used to achieve goals. This can include strategies such as withdrawing access to bonuses if targets are not met.

This style of leader is well known for demanding unwavering excellent performance from their team members and employees.

A coercive leader will expect the very best out of their staff at all times and are less likely to be understanding of shortcomings. They expect their authority to be acknowledged and recognized, with employees doing as the leader asks without question.

What Are the Core Features of Coercive Leadership?

No two leaders are exactly the same, so two coercive leaders may have slightly different approaches. However, there are certain traits often seen in coercive leaders.

Tight Regulation

A working environment under coercive leadership is likely to have very tight regulations stipulating what can and can’t be done, as well as strict processes that must be followed.

This can be useful in the sense that everyone knows where they stand and to whom they should report in the event of any problems.

It can also mean that processes are easier to follow, simplifying them to the extent that anyone will be able to follow the instructions and know what they need to do.

Minimal Autonomy

When a business employs coercive leaders, they will generally allow very little autonomy to their staff members.

Employees will be expected to follow the protocols and processes set out for them by their leaders. Deviation from this is generally not encouraged.

Rigid Hierarchies

Within coercive leadership, there is a set hierarchy which employees are expected to comply with. Their leaders will be in a position of authority over them and should be respected.

This hierarchy also means that employees can identify the correct procedures to follow to raise awareness of problems and issues as they arise.

Communication Commonly Comes From The Top

All the decisions and strategies will be made by those in leadership roles, with very little input from other staff members.

All the communication regarding policies and targets will be fed from above, rather than allowing individuals to make some of their own decisions.

Little Room for Ideas and Experimentation

Staff members will be encouraged to follow the rules and processes set out for them.

Individuals have few opportunities to solve problems for themselves or to use their individual insight to find solutions.

Processes such as brainstorming and independent working processes are generally not encouraged.

Examples of Coercive Leadership

There are many things that may contribute to a workplace being considered one that uses coercive leadership.

Some of the factors include:

When employees run the risk of losing pay or bonuses for not reaching their targets, this could be considered a coercive tactic.

Employers are effectively using the threat of reduced income to motivate their teams.

Formal Warnings and Entries on Employee Records

Employees, as a rule, will try not to have anything negative added to their employee record.

This is a file that will follow them as they progress through their career with a company and can be used as a reference point when evaluating employee performance or writing recommendations.

Sometimes, a coercive leader will play on an employee’s preference to avoid having negative information added to their file.

This could be done by suggesting that failure to comply with rules and regulations would result in a formal warning or a write-up.

Redundancies and Sacking

If an employee feels that their continuing employment could potentially be at risk if they fail to perform, this could be considered a coercive strategy.

When used correctly, it can encourage employees to perform to the best of their ability, but it can be seen as stress-inducing and threatening if this power is abused.

Environments Where Coercive Leadership Can Be Beneficial

Businesses that encourage coercive leadership may seem somewhat restrictive, but there are several situations where coercive leadership enables a better, safer working environment for employees.

You will often find coercive leaders in working environments such as:

The Military

When soldiers are in warzone environments, they must follow the correct processes. This will include complying with their leader's orders. Failure to do so could result in injury or even death.

Factories That Use Dangerous Chemicals

Many chemicals are vital for manufacturing products but could also be potentially dangerous.

Coercive leadership is often used in these types of environments to keep employees safe and reduce the number of accidents.

What Is Coercive Leadership?
What Is Coercive Leadership?

Strengths of Coercive Leadership

There are many reasons why employers choose to use coercive leadership strategies. Some of the advantages include:

Greater Compliance

When people know what the rules are and the consequences of not following them, they are more likely to comply.

This is partially because they don’t want the potential negative consequences, although some people simply work better in an environment where they know the boundaries and what is expected of them.

Better Safety Outcomes

When employees are working in potentially dangerous circumstances or with dangerous substances, coercive leadership strategies are used to help keep people safe.

In these circumstances, effective coercive leadership will result in better safety outcomes and a lower incidence of injury within the working environment.

Temporary Productive Gains

If people know they have to maintain a certain standard for a relatively limited time, they are more likely to be motivated. For example, if employees know that they need to work more hours in November to achieve a bonus in December, this is a manageable goal and factors such as staff performance and production are likely to increase.

Weaknesses of Coercive Leadership

No leadership style is entirely without issues.

Some of the potential weaknesses of coercive leadership include:

Increased Staff Turnover

Not everyone finds that a coercive leadership environment suits their personality. Some people thrive more when they are allowed to use their intuition and flexibility within the workplace. A lack of this can cause morale issues and staff may not feel that their contributions are appreciated.

All of this can lead to increased staff turnover, as employees leave for environments better suited to them.

Reduced Innovation

A coercive leadership environment doesn’t naturally offer individuals opportunities to use their intuition to create new techniques and strategies. This can mean that companies find themselves stuck using the same familiar techniques that they have always done, with staff not encouraged to think outside of the box.

Lack of Morale and Rapport

Not every employee will respond well to a coercive working environment, and there is always the risk that it could damage staff morale or rapport. This happens when employees don’t feel that their leaders are approachable.

They're less likely to see their superiors as people they can talk to about their problems, which can affect an individual’s satisfaction with their work.

Risks to Long-Term Productivity

Coercive leadership often relies on putting pressure on employees to achieve targets at the risk of consequences. This can sometimes have the opposite effect to that intended when used in the same way over long periods.

When employees constantly feel that their jobs are under threat, it can lead to issues with productivity in the long term. They won’t see the point in working to their full potential when it isn’t appreciated by their employer.

Frequently Asked Questions

The best way to promote fairness when you are a coercive leader is to be consistent.

If you have said that there will be a reward or consequence in a particular circumstance, you need to follow through with this for all employees, even if that is difficult or it means making uncomfortable decisions.

When a leader is consistent, their people are more likely to trust them. Employees will know that everyone is subject to the same rules.

If you are leading individuals in a workplace or situation which could potentially be dangerous, coercive leadership could be useful.

In these situations, a coercive approach that encourages individuals to follow orders could enable you to provide a safer working environment. It could help to avoid accidents and allow work to be carried out with the minimum level of risk.

If you have a coercive leadership style but wish to change, there are many things you can do.

Begin by identifying the specific traits you wish to change.

Once you're aware of these, you can identify courses and self-help training designed to replace these negative traits with ones that you wish to possess as a leader.

Changing your leadership style will also involve being accountable to others so that you're held responsible for the changes you wish to make.

Final Thoughts

When used properly, coercive leaders can motivate employees and inspire confidence in their superiors.

Coercive leadership can also be used to improve production over a short period of time and can be beneficial in ensuring that team members are kept as safe as possible while they go about their work.

It is vital, however, to be aware of the potential pitfalls of coercive leadership. When employees aren’t given the ability to think for themselves or question the directives of their leaders, morale may decrease.

Some people will feel as though their jobs are constantly being threatened, leading to feelings of insecurity. All of this can contribute to issues such as higher staff turnover.

As with any form of leadership, balance is key. Being aware of the potential stumbling blocks can help you plan for them and avoid the worst outcomes.


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