What is pacesetting leadership?

What is pacesetting leadership?

Pacesetting leadership is the ultimate ‘lead by example’ approach.

You lead the way, but you also set the pace. Your team is expected to keep up with you, so choose that pace wisely!

The idea is that if you get it right your team will achieve more than they would if left to their own devices. But if you get it wrong… well you kinda have to fire everyone who doesn’t keep up.

What is pacesetting leadership?

Essentially, your team members are expected to reach (or exceed) the standards that you set for yourself. This puts the focus on accountability, which is vital for a healthy workplace.

It’s also highly results-focussed, which can be ace for people who are motivated to consistently beat themselves and others.

But there are some drawbacks, too. Setting the right pace is absolutely crucial; this is not about doing things as quickly as you can. It’s about hitting your stride and challenging your team to do their best.

If you set too much of a challenge, you end up leaving the whole team behind. And people who don’t make the pace get cut from the team… leaving you with an awful lot of work (and explaining) to do!

When is pacesetting leadership effective?

In theory, this is a fantastic way to lead teams whose working lives revolve around numbers: units produced, sales made etc.

But to pull it off, you have to set the correct pace, which means accounting for:

  • The complexity of the tasks your team must carry out
  • Individual competence levels
  • Additional context such as individual shift patterns, the burden of meetings etc

That will help you ensure that you’re setting challenging goals, but not over-burdening anyone. If you delegate too much work to one or more of your team members, they will be unable to succeed. They’re likely to suffer undue stress as a result, too.

You also need to be highly self motivated yourself. To lead a team in this way requires you to feed off of the recognition you get from consistently delivering great work and to strive for improvement as its own reward. It’s worthwhile checking out why leadership accountability and employee accountability are so important, and how to use simple tools like Accountability Dial to help you encourage it in your team.

Like many other rigid leadership frameworks, this is not easily applied to creative teams. You can’t say how long it will take to create the perfect colour palette or write the perfect tagline. So setting the ‘pace’ is counter-intuitive, unless you use quality as a yardstick instead of speed. Even then, quality can be subjective and it’s a restrictive way of looking at things. In fact, creating ‘bad’ ideas is a key part of the creative process!

Finally, if your team is not self motivated, they are likely to need external incentives to encourage them to keep up. In practice, this approach doesn't accommodate the many nuances required for great people management.

Pros and cons of pacesetting leadership

  • Pros: creates accountability for you and your team, creates short-term motivation, appeals to people who like rigid rules and structure, gives some clarity as to what’s expected.
  • Cons: not easily applied in creative industries, lacks any focus on coaching and career development, challenging to get right and can be difficult for some employees to reach their potential under.

It could, perhaps, work for running ‘business as usual’ or core duties, while you also incorporate other leadership frameworks for things like career development, problem solving and communication (hint: there are some great Team Tactics to help you nail communication within your team).

How does pace-setting leadership compare to other leadership styles?

This framework is one of the most restrictive approaches you can apply to your leadership practice. Honestly, we can’t think of a single situation where this is the only framework you’ll need!

Take a look at How to lead: 11 leadership styles and frameworks for more information on other frameworks you can use to supplement (or replace) this approach.


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