Management Styles

Ryan Archibald
Ryan Archibald
No one enjoys a workplace full of miscommunications and conflict—or a manager who doesn’t allow you to contribute your best work. Understanding management styles will set you up for success personally as an HR representative and help you prevent miscommunication and conflict in the workplace. It’s a big topic, but here are some basic insights about management styles and how they can help you succeed.

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What Are Management Styles?

Management styles are the behaviors and methods used by those who manage people within an organization.

Why You Need to Be Aware of the Way You and Your Organization’s Leaders Manage

Every leader has a natural management style, and that style may create unnecessary conflict with other styles or with direct reports. Becoming aware of your own style along with the style of others equips you to adapt and ensures that conversations don’t get lost in translation and employees want to stay with the company.

Types of Management Styles

As you grow as a leader, it is beneficial to understand different management styles. This section will help you identify the differences between basic management styles and identify what styles are used in your organization.

Authoritative

These managers want to be in complete control over every aspect of the team. They will give instructions like “Do as you’re told” or “I know the best method to complete this task.”

Pros

  • Clarity. These managers provide clarity on how to complete tasks.
  • Vision. Authoritative managers know what success looks like and can be counted on to provide that direction.

Cons

  • Poor talent retention. Managers with this style may not be aware of the negative impact they have on their team. This style doesn’t promote positive relationships, and may lead to turnover.
  • Heavy personality. Authoritarians tend to come across as a heavy or overbearing personality. Employees that are used to workplace autonomy may experience lower morale, decreased engagement and resentment.

Persuasive

Similar to the authoritative style, this style is defined by centralized decision-making by the manager. Employees are persuaded to complete certain tasks through structured messaging.

Pros

  • Efficient decision-making. The manager makes all the decisions and persuades the team to buy into it. It is quick and efficient.
  • Clarity. Everyone knows their span of control and what is expected of them. No one challenges the status quo, thus having more time to devote to business success.
  • Ideal for experts. Managers who are experts in their field can easily use this style to earn respect from employees. The messaging to persuade others will come easily because managers can use specifics that display their knowledge.

Cons

  • Responsibility. Managers may be the knowledge expert, but they are held responsible for the outcome whether or not the team supports it or the manager explains it perfectly. Poor outcomes can lead to a manager using this style to question their job security.
  • Weak foundation. This style relies on messaging to accomplish goals, without building trust or respect with employees. This is the best way to set up a manager for failure.
  • Ready for anything. As the need for new ideas continues to grow the organization, managers with this style will be included and should be ready at a moment’s notice to help the organization grow and evolve. Managers may love it in the beginning, but risk burning out. They could take time off, but do they feel supported to do so?

Collaborative

This style creates a space where everyone feels safe to voice their thoughts, and leverages the unique diversity each person brings to the table.

Pros

  • Innovation. This style encourages all ideas to be shared, even if the manager disagrees with them. Collaborative leaders understand the value of innovation and harness the value of each person.
  • Trust building. A style that focuses on transparent communication helps employees feel safe, valued and empowered. Employees will be happier at work knowing they are seen and heard as a person who can contribute to business success.
  • Win-win solutions. This style focuses on finding solutions where both parties end up happy, as opposed to other styles where everyone looks out for themselves.

Cons

  • Power struggles. This style may lead to some employees believing they have leadership roles within the company. Attempts to reestablish the status quo may create resentment among employees and negatively impact team dynamics and morale.
  • Quality of relationships. The constant focus on working as a group and sharing ideas reduces the time for employees to form individual relationships with each other.
  • Time consuming. Leaders spending time asking for input may be wasting time on decisions their team doesn’t need to be included in.

Democratic

Managers who seek input from every direct report regarding decisions while maintaining decision-making power are democratic leaders. They practice transparent communication with their direct reports.

Pros

  • Trust. This style builds a strong bond between manager and employee.
  • Present in the moment. Trust in a manager leads employees to be more engaged in their work and have lower absenteeism.
  • Clear vision. The manager provides a clear vision of what success looks like while allowing employee input on how to achieve it.
  • Invites higher commitment. This style asks each employee to actively contribute to the business with new ideas and the tasks they complete.

Cons

  • Poorly defined. This style is similar to other styles of leadership, with no unique traits that set it apart.
  • Resentful employees. Not all employees will participate in respectful conversation and sharing of ideas. Some may become resentful if their ideas are not acted upon, and can create negativity in the team and workplace.
  • Best ideas not acted upon. Leaders with this style may act upon the loudest ideas or the ideas from the most charismatic speakers. There is no correlation between being the best speaker and having the best ideas.

Laissez-faire

Western Governors University defines this style as having complete trust and reliance on their team. They provide guidance when it is needed, but ultimately expect their team to solve problems on their own. This is also known as “delegative leadership.”

Pros

  • Accountability. This style allows teams to be held accountable for their work. When they have to solve their own problems, managers can better identify the employee’s thought process and provide mentoring as needed.
  • Higher talent retention. Delegative management gives employees a sense of freedom to go the extra mile, try new tasks outside their normal duties, and expand their career paths. These employees are more likely to stay with your company and recommend it to others.
  • Relaxed environment. Employees are more likely to enjoy their job under this style of management because their boss isn’t micromanaging.

Cons

  • Difficult for new hires. New employees need structure when onboarding. A hands-off approach may result in an employee questioning if they made the right choice joining your company.
  • Lack of accountability. Employees may blame the manager or another employee if goals are not achieved or if the employee didn’t understand what was being asked.
  • Risk of turnover. Just as some employees love this style, others loathe it. Employees want to see and be seen by their manager. They want to share ideas and feel comfortable talking to leaders when issues arise. If not, they may leave and seek employment elsewhere.

Transformative

This style focuses on managers encouraging and inspiring employees to be creative when bringing new ideas to the company.

Pros

  • Secret weapon. For small businesses, this is a secret weapon to reward employees who bring ideas that help the company accomplish goals.
  • Quickly builds trust. Managers using this style spend time listening and conversing with employees about ideas to improve the company. This is a basic employee need when joining a company, and can be immediately satisfied. This style helps employees feel psychologically safe, which empowers them to continue to share ideas.
  • One team. This style opens communication channels for everyone to work toward a common goal, and prevents personal agendas from getting in the way.

Cons

  • Not for everyone. Large companies with processes and structure in place may not allow this management style to succeed. This style needs a collaborative environment without bureaucracy getting in the way.
  • Focus on immediate needs. This style succeeds with immediate new ideas. Through no fault of their own, employees may only give ideas for immediate needs and not for long-term success.
  • Risk of burnout. Everyone has their limits, and the constant need for new ideas to push the company toward a goal can lead to burnout. Preventing burnout helps small businesses retain talent and keeps the company from stopping all progress.

How to Work With Management Styles

If you are starting a new job or want to deepen your knowledge about management styles at work, these steps can help you discern which management styles will work best in a given organization.

Step 1: Self Awareness

Educate yourself on each management style. Research each style and conduct an honest self-assessment to determine which management style you naturally lean towards.

Step 2: Observation

As you navigate your job, observe and identify the management style of other employees and even your own manager.

Step 3: Assessing Risk

After you have identified the management style in your team or other employees, you can consider how those styles interact with theirs, and determine if and how unnecessary conflict might arise when working with them.

One example is a manager with an authoritarian style who has a highly intelligent direct report. This employee works best under a laissez-faire style manager. During conversations, the manager will be frustrated that the employee isn’t falling in line with their commands, and the employee is wondering why their manager is breathing down their neck; conflict can arise. In order to avoid this conflict, when an employee begins employment the manager should ask the best way the employee prefers to receive feedback and be managed. This conversation is critical for the success of the onboarding, but also for the success of the long-term relationship between manager and employee.

Here’s another example of how awareness of management styles can help avoid conflict. What if your personal style is collaborative and your new manager is authoritative? You need to know that the collaboration you need may not happen initially. As you build trust over time with your manager, you can bring up management styles and explain your case for a more collaborative working partnership.

Step 4: Adapt and Change

Ideally, you will be able to change your style to match or compliment another’s style and avoid conflict (and coach your leadership to do so as well). There are no wrong management styles; this is about knowing when to use different ones.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Management Styles

What is the best management style?
There is no best management style for every circumstance. The best management style is that compliments or matches the style of the other individuals you are working with. Managers should be ready to change their management style based on the employee and what is needed to help them succeed.
How do you know when it's time to change your management style?
A good rule of thumb to remember is conversation quality. When words are lost in translation or conflict occurs, it may be time to change your management style (or coach others to) and repair any damage.
Ryan Archibald
Ryan Archibald

Ryan is an HR Director with four years of experience and three masters degrees. One accomplishment he is proud of is the design and launch of a learning and development program for 800+ employees.

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