Why should affiliative leadership be a priority in environmental organizations?

In August, we participated in a discussion about ‘Being a Self Aware and Adaptive Leader’ organized under an Exchange Program at Georgetown University. In our group, more than half a dozen people from different countries discussed our experience and opinion about leading teams under different circumstances in culturally diverse spaces. Facilitated by the famous Deidre Combs of Combs and Company, we were given Daniel Goleman’s six styles of leadership (Goleman, 2000) as a reference. Here’s a PDF file summarizing Goleman’s classification.

I asked the fellows about which leadership styles they have found as best suitable for environmental organizations. The responses were diverse, but there was a consensus that each type serves different purposes in different circumstances. This means, according to my fellow community leaders, no single style is adequate for an organization. Having said that, one of our fellow Firuza Gulayozova, prioritized about ‘affiliative’ leadership style in environmental conservation.

Based on her experience in Tajikistan, she thinks adopting an ‘affiliative’ leadership style for organizations engaged in environmental conservation is very necessary. This observation intrigued me, and we talked about it later again, on another occasion. So, I thought before I forget, I should write it down.

Personally, until very recently, I didn’t think of any particular leadership style. I have led a few collective endeavors in mass communication, civil and human rights, and conservation, with very few successes and several terrible disasters. Looking back at those times now, I see I was always relying on others to lead together. I still am, leading like a diver, slow and steady, and always looking out for each other. Because for me, more than to achieve some goals, the important thing is working with people we love; works which we are passionate about.

Leading like a diver, slow and steady, and always looking out for each other.

I am still not convinced that we can effectively identify exclusive leadership features to attribute them to a particular style or category. But, of course, for the sake of communication, we can’t avoid classifications and terms like these categories of type. So, the necessity of discussion on prioritizing the ‘affiliative’ leadership style in conservation organizations resonated with me to some extent. 

Firuza’s works in Conflict Resolution. She is ‘an expert in youth psychology and has developed skills in listening to the problems of young people and helping them find solutions.’

For any organization, Firuza said, everyone must have the scope to bring many ideas into the process; affiliative leadership is a powerful tool to create such an institutional environment. She thinks that the affiliative style is best for ‘supporting the team morally and making them feel valuable and practical. She thinks the job of conservation groups is not easy because the main task is working with people, not otherwise. The team members in such organizations need the highest degree of mutual patience and support. And the affiliative style of leadership serves this purpose very well under any circumstances.

I get it in the sense that, ‘conservation is about people’ approach needs to be first mainstreamed through the institutional process of conservation organizations. And, the leadership traits which we identify as ‘affiliative’ are based on the ‘people come first’ mantra and recognizes that empathy, building relationships, and communication are critical emotional intelligence competencies. Maybe these are the things we need to prioritize to revive our conservation organizations, which are badly affected by failing bureaucracy (‘commanding’ style?).


Goleman, D. (2000, March-April). Emotional Intelligence: Leadership That Gets Results. Harvard Business Review, pp. 82-83.