Everyone’s had “that” boss. You know the one — they micromanage every detail of your life, or flip flop between being understanding and ruling with an iron fist. Ask anyone that’s been working for several years and each person is almost guaranteed to tell you about a nightmare boss that had a terrible management style.
But what exactly is a management style? Essentially a management style is how someone oversees and manages their team. It encompasses how the person makes decisions, coaches and guides their subordinates, and reacts to situations. In short, management style is largely synonymous with someone’s style of leadership.
How your management style affects your team
There are times when you can’t really make a wrong choice. Chocolate or vanilla? Hot dog or hamburger? Clear direction or aimless disaster? Okay, so sometimes you really can make a bad choice.
When it comes to picking a management style, there are definitely right and wrong choices. Further complicating matters, some management styles may be right for some groups of employees and terrible for others.
Hiring the right people to fill out a team is hugely important to any business’s success, but arguably even more important is having the right management style. With the wrong manager or style of management at the helm, you can find even the most talented and professional teams falling behind on projects, going for one another’s throats, and generally acting miserable.
So to make a long answer longer, management style matters — a lot.
Primary management styles
The business world recognizes several management styles. Each one sets the tone within a company or department, and it usually reflects the business owner or leader’s personality. Each management style varies in its approach, effectiveness, and how it impacts team members. The following are some of the most popular types of management styles.
An autocratic leader insists on having control of all important decisions with little or no input from his or her employees. This type of absolute power works for some entrepreneurs, such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who found success by wielding absolute power but likely alienated many employees along the way. However, people who work for autocratic leaders often feel neglected and resentful, which can lead to poor workplace performance and low morale.
Autocratic management styles can lead to very tight branding — especially when dealing with a personal brand — because you’re removing all the other decision-makers from the equation. Still, this type of leadership can result in those who feel neglected not staying with the company for very long.
Authoritarian management is all about power and control. An authoritative manager can be easily confused with an autocratic manager, but it’s quite different. Whereas an autocratic leader is primarily worried about being the one calling the shots, an authoritarian manager is concerned with being in control of everything and enforcing the rules no matter what.
Authoritarian management probably sounds like an employee’s worst nightmare, and in many cases, it is. Still, there are situations where an authoritarian manager can be useful, especially for short periods of time. For example, a company that’s been struggling to maintain control of a team could use an authoritarian leader for a period of time to ensure everyone falls in line.
These kinds of managers can also be great for getting companies out of a financial hole, on account of their no-nonsense approach to virtually everything. They won’t be popular with the employees or get invited out for happy hour, but they can get results if used properly.
This management approach is also fairly dictatorial, but the boss claims to care about both the business and the people he or she employs. The paternalistic leader accepts input from employees, but in the end, all decisions remain his or hers alone. Dave Thomas, the late founder of Wendy’s, embodied this management style.
Where this style differs from autocratic management is that the paternal leader thinks about how their actions will impact their “family” or employees. While an autocratic leader is mostly concerned with the business or brand, the paternal leader is also concerned with their employees. This can result in a very tight-knit group of workers, but again, the lack of consideration regarding input from others can result in the same resentment seen in autocratic-led teams.
Input and consensus are key elements of democratic management: Everyone gets a voice in the decision-making process. This collaborative approach, which sometimes results in “leadership by committee,” often boosts employee morale and provides effective solutions to business problems. Mark Pincus, founder and CEO of Zynga, the online gaming company, wants to make everyone who works for him “the CEO of something.”
This type of leadership style can also be great for identifying potential leaders. For example, if you regularly involve the entire team on decisions, those who exhibit a natural knack for decision-making could be great leaders in other departments one day.
However, the involvement of everyone on decisions is also a drawback to the democratic style. Decisions can take longer to make due to the number of people involved in the process. You can also run into situations where the majority vote on something that might be beneficial to them, but not the business. (This is where those “my way or the highway” people from the autocratic model have the advantage.)
Leaders who embrace a laissez-faire management style favor a hands-off approach to decision-making. This works best when employees are highly motivated, experienced at what they do, and ready to assume responsibility. In the wrong hands, this approach results in chaotic management and low productivity.
Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is an enthusiastic proponent of laissez-faire management. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, delegates virtually all of his business decisions to his team, preferring to “dive in occasionally.”
If you’ve already hired the highly-motivated team described above, this method can free up management for more pressing issues while the teams handle the day-to-day decisions. Like the democratic style, this can also be a great way to identify strong leaders and those who have a lot of potential.
Unfortunately, just as much as this method lets stars shine, it also lets diamonds in the rough fall to the wayside. Those that could be great but need a little hands-on guidance will lose out in this method.
A fifth management style known as “transformational leadership” isn’t as common as the four basic styles, but — as illustrated by such leaders as Sam Walton of Wal-Mart and Jack Welch of General Electric — it can dramatically change business and culture. These passionate, charismatic leaders inspire teams and employees to perform far beyond expectations.
Unlike traditional managers that focus on performance metrics or emphasize company growth, transformational leaders look at what change needs to happen both within the company and the teams. Then, they create a task force that will help make this change happen. This group is similar to the voting panel of a democratic model, only they’ve already been given a directive.
Transformational leaders can be especially great for companies looking to revamp their brand or get out of a slump.
Servant leadership is exactly what it sounds like: The leader serves their team before themselves. This management style is all about cheering on and motivating the team above all else. Essentially the belief is that a supported and motivated team is more productive and effective. This, ideally, translates into meeting company objectives, which at the end of the day, is the goal of most management styles.
Which management style should I use?
It’s easy to write off certain management styles as “wrong” or to assume others might be all-around great. In all honesty, no single management style is totally wrong, and no style is totally right. While your personality will make you a more natural fit for a certain management style, you can still adopt traits from other management styles and use them in your own methods. There are several things you should take into consideration to determine which management style is best for you and your business.
The personalities on your team
What kind of people are on your team? Do you have a bunch of type A people who are hyper-organized? Or do you have a crew of free-thinking creatives that do great work but often require supervision or guidance? The personalities of the people on your team can largely dictate the ideal management style. You don’t want to use a style that will clash with their personalities.
Outside of the personalities making up your team, think about more situational factors, like how new to the company your team is for example. If you have a new team, you’ll want to build trust and use a more open and compassionate approach. Whereas if you and your team recently missed the mark on a project, it might be time to take a more authoritarian or paternal approach.
The tasks your team faces
Team projects can vary a lot from team to team. If you have a team that frequently has tight deadlines, consider an authoritarian or paternal approach, at least until the team is disciplined. Once they know their roles and are aware of the processes and deadlines, you can loosen up a bit.
On the other end of the spectrum, if your team works on large-scale projects that have more fluid deadlines, a more collaborative approach can be a great way to get employee buy-in on ideas. This can also build camaraderie and make employees feel more valued in general.
Managing with style
Successful business leaders find a way to mesh their personality and management style to get the best results. By better understanding what kind of manager you are, you can adapt or modify your style as necessary and cultivate the most effective work environment for you and your employees.
Remember, you can always borrow from other management styles to make something all your own. You also don’t ever have to stick to the same management style, even if it fits your personality well. If you feel your team is falling behind in a certain area, don’t be afraid to try a new style.
Be mindful of your team and remember that they’re all unique individuals. Enjoy learning and growing with your team, and you’ll be just fine.