Management Styles

This article will help your organization improve communication between managers and employees, enhance the hiring process for managers, and establish training paths for managers to develop the management styles best suited for your organization.

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By better understanding management styles, your organization can create and implement guidelines for the type of managers best suited for you, which will lead to more engaged employees, lower turnover and better business outcomes.

What is a management style?

A management style is a way in which a manager works to fulfill their goals. Management style includes the way that a manager plans, organizes, makes decisions, delegates, and manages their staff.

It can vary widely depending on the company, level of management, industry, country, and culture, as well as the person themself. An effective manager is someone who can adjust their management style in response to different factors while keeping their focus on successfully achieving targets.

Management styles are affected by both internal and external factors.

Internal factors include the overall organizational and corporate culture of the company, as well as policies, priorities, employee engagement and staff skill levels. In general, the higher-skilled staff does not need as much supervision, while less skilled staff will require more monitoring to consistently achieve their objectives.

External factors include employment laws, the economy, competitors, suppliers and consumers. These are factors that are outside of the control of the organization, but will have an effect on both managers and employees.

Types of management styles

There are three broad categories of management styles: Autocratic, democratic and laissez-faire. Within these categories, there are specific subtypes of management styles, each with its own pros and cons.

1. Autocratic management styles

This type of management follows a top-down approach, with one-way communication from bosses to employees.

This is the most controlling of the different management styles, with the management making all workplace decisions and holding all of the power.

Employees are treated as drones, to be monitored closely as they perform within clearly defined perimeters.

Employees are not encouraged to ask questions, submit ideas, or share their thoughts on improving processes, and are in some cases actively discouraged from doing so.

The subtypes of autocratic management style are authoritative, persuasive, and paternalistic.

Authoritative management style

In this style, managers dictate exactly what they require their subordinates to do and punish those who do not comply.

Employees are expected to follow orders, not question the authority of management, and perform their tasks the same way each time.

Managers monitor the employees closely, micromanaging their performance without placing trust or confidence that their employees can achieve their goals without direct and constant supervision. These types of managers believe that without this supervision, employees will not operate successfully.

Pros: This management style allows quick decision making, and creates clearly defined roles and expectations. With unskilled workers or large teams, setting clear and solid expectations can allow workers to operate without uncertainty. Productivity will increase, but only when the manager is present.

Cons: The negatives of authoritative management style includes an increase in the dissatisfaction of employees, which leads to higher turnover, resentment, a lack of professional development and employee engagement, and the formation of an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality between employees and management. Innovation is stifled and inefficient processes will remain in place.

When to use this style: If decisions need to be made and executed quickly, for example, in a time of organizational crisis, this management style can be used successfully. It should otherwise be avoided.

Persuasive management style

In this style, managers use their persuasive skills to convince employees that the unilateral decisions that the manager implements are for the good of the team, department, or organization.

Rather than simply ordering employees to perform tasks, managers employing this style would invite questions and would explain the decision-making process and rationale behind policies. This can help employees feel as though they are a more trusted and valued part of the staff and are involved in key business decisions, leading to lower levels of resentment or tension between management and staff.

Pros: Management can establish a higher level of trust between themselves and employees, and employees will accept top-down decisions more easily. Employees respond more positively to reason and logic than they do the threat of punishment, and may feel less constricted than those managed with an authoritative style.

Cons: Employees will still chafe under the restrictions they are placed under, and become frustrated that they cannot give feedback, create solutions, or upskill in a meaningful way.

When to use this style: This style can be used when you have more experience on the subject than the team you are leading. In those cases, you are the expert. While it is helpful to explain your thought process, ultimately, you know best. It can also be helpful when managing upwards.

Paternalistic management style

In this style, the manager acts with the best interests of their subordinates at heart.

Usually, the organization will refer to staff as ‘family’ and ask for loyalty and trust from employees.

Management using this style will use unilateral decision making but will explain to employees that the decision-makers are working from a place of expertise, and thus, legitimacy. Decisions are explained to employees, but there is no room for collaboration or questioning.

Pros: A paternalistic manager is focused on the welfare of their employees, and will base their decisions on what is best for their staff. Upskilling and employee education are valued, leading to happier, more skilled, more productive employees.

Cons: Employees can become too dependent on management, leading to a lack of innovation and problem-solving. There is a high chance of this style breeding resentment among employees who do not believe in the ‘organization as family’ concept. Employees might find this style condescending and infantilizing.

When to use this style: The use of this style is heavily culture-dependent. In Western countries, there is less reliance on hierarchical structures, and employees will be less accepting of the idea of a benevolent leader. Smaller companies may find success in this type of leadership, but it should be avoided by larger organizations.

2. Democratic management styles

In this style, managers encourage employees to give input during the decision-making process, but are ultimately responsible for the final decision.

Communication goes both ways, top-down and bottom-up, and team cohesiveness is increased.

This process allows for diverse opinions, skills and ideas to inform decisions.

Consultative management style

In this style, managers ask for the opinions and thoughts of their team, consulting the viewpoints of every member of their team.

The manager will make the final decision, but they will consider all of the information given by team members before they do so.

This style is often used in specialized fields, where staff are experts and their input is needed for the management to make informed decisions.

Pros: This style promotes a deeper bond between staff and management, and builds trust within teams. Management grows with the team, as they learn from the ideas, opinions and experience of the employees that they lead. Innovation and voicing opinions are encouraged, leading to better problem-solving.

Cons: The process of consulting staff can be labor and time-intensive. If a manager is not skilled in the time management aspect of this process, they can easily get bogged down. If there is an appearance of favoritism or bosses not listening to opinions, employees may become resentful and distrustful of the manager. Excessive reliance on this style can lead to staff losing trust in their boss, as they will start to wonder why they are always called on to help solve problems instead of management handling it as part of their job.

When to use this style: This style should be used when managing teams with specialized skills or when the manager does not have as much experience with the subject as the team does. For example, a manager assigned to run a team of developers who are creating a new SaaS would want to consult with their team often, to gain the benefit of their experience.

Participative management style

In this style, managers and staff are all active members of the decision process.

Staff are given access to more information about the company and its goals, and are encouraged to innovate solutions.

Management seeks the thoughts, ideas and opinions of staff, works together with staff to make decisions and then the company acts on them.

Pros: Employees feel as though they are valued by their management team and the organization as a whole, and will respond with increased motivation and productivity. The more they understand and connect with the organization’s goals, the higher their engagement will be. Innovation is increased.

Cons: This process can be a slow one, and there is a risk of staff with bigger personalities steamrolling less assertive staff members, leading to conflicts and resentment. In industries with trade secrets, letting staff have access to sensitive information can be risky. If employees do not want to be involved in this type of decision making, they can grow to resent managers who employ this style.

When to use this style: When implementing large changes in an organization, especially one where employees are resistant to new concepts or strategies, encouraging participation from staff will result in a more positive outcome and less resistance to new policies. Organizations that want to drive innovation, such as tech companies, will find this style useful.

Collaborative management style

In this style, management creates an open forum for ideas to be discussed extensively before making decisions based on majority rule. Staff is empowered to take ownership of outcomes, which can lead to increased engagement, innovation and creativity.

Pros: Staff feels trusted, valued and heard by all levels of their management team. They are inspired to put forth their best work, find collaborative solutions to problems, and engage completely with the process. Open communication means that workplace conflicts are often solved before real issues arise. Turnover is decreased when employees are engaged, and diverse voices often lead to better solutions and outcomes.

Cons: As with other democratic management styles, this process can be time-consuming. Majority rule can also not always be the best choice for an organization, and if there is a decision that is not in the best interests of the business, management will need to step in and change it, which can breed resentment and mistrust.

When to use this style: When a business wants to foster innovation, drive collaboration, and engage employees, this style should be used. Any organization that wants to increase engagement and trust, especially in the face of large changes within the organization or industry, should consider this style.

Transformational management style

This style of management is agile and growth-focused.

Managers focus their efforts on pushing their staff to ever greater accomplishments through encouragement, pushing them past their comfort zones regularly, and consistently motivating their teams to raise their bar for achievements.

Managers work alongside with their employees, inspiring their team to ever greater efforts by demonstrating their own work ethic.

Pros: Innovation is increased, and employees will more easily adapt to change, disruptions, or challenging projects. Creative thinking is encouraged, and problem-solving and product development will benefit from the increased flexibility of the staff.

Cons: If not used carefully, this style will cause staff to burn out. Staff may end up spread too thin, worn out from constantly pushing themselves, and unable to keep up with the pace.

When to use this style: This style is best used in companies that are in fast-paced industries, or are anticipating a period of changes within the industry, organization, or department. This style will help teams become more agile, flexible, and innovative while responding to the outside or inside forces.

Coaching management style

In this style, managers see themselves as the coach and their employees as the valued members of their team.

The manager’s job is to develop and guide their team, putting their team’s professional development at the forefront of their priorities. Long-term development is valued above short-term failures in this style, and the manager wants to promote learning, upskilling and growing in the workplace.

Pros: Employees feel valued, they know that they will learn and develop within their roles, and are more likely to be engaged. Managers build a strong bond with their employees, who will in turn be more likely to put forth their best work for their ‘coach’.

Cons: This style can lead to toxic environments, as staff jockey for favored roles and development tasks. Too much focus on long-term development can leave short-term projects without proper support.

When to use this style: This style is useful when organizations want to promote and develop talent from within. Industries with competitive job markets would benefit from this style, as it can cost time and money to recruit the right candidates.

3. Laissez-faire management styles

In this style, management takes a hands-off approach to leadership.

Staff is trusted to do their work without supervision, and they are left to control their decision making and problem-solving.

Management is present at the delegation and delivery stages of work, but otherwise steps back and gives staff the freedom to control their workflow and outcomes. Management is only involved during the process if the staff requests their assistance.

Delegative management style

In this style, the manager is only present to assign tasks, although they still are responsible for tasks being completed successfully. Once the task is assigned, then the employees are empowered to do their work as they see fit.

After the task is complete, the manager steps back in to review the work and give advice about how to improve future projects.

Pros: Innovation and creativity are fostered by this system, especially in organizations with highly skilled workers. Problem solving and teamwork are strengthened, as staff are given space to handle their own issues and will work together to solve them. Job satisfaction may be increased in those who crave autonomy in their workplace.

Cons: Without leadership, productivity may suffer. Teams can experience a lack of direction, focus, or uniformity. Poorly managed conflicts may flare up and breed resentment. Some staff may feel that the management is not contributing anything towards the team’s success and become resentful.

When to use this style: This style is best used in organizations with more decentralized leadership and where the team is much more skilled than the manager in the tasks. If the manager has no real experience in producing new cloud management software, for example, they can step back, allow their team the freedom to innovate, and offer support if needed.

Visionary management style

In this style, managers lead through inspiring their staff.

Leaders explain their goals and the reasons behind them, convincing their team to work towards executing their vision.

Team members are motivated by their manager, then allowed the freedom to achieve their tasks with minimal interference. Managers will check in from time to time, but they trust that their shared vision will keep employees on track and produce good results.

Managers offer a lot of constructive feedback during and after the process to assist their employees, and make sure to give praise liberally.

Pros: Engagement is heightened because staff believes in what they are creating and are driven to complete tasks to the best of their ability. Employees are more satisfied, motivation is higher and turnover will be lowered. Innovation is higher, and problem-solving can happen quickly within teams.

Cons: Not all managers can be legitimately inspiring. It depends on the job, the industry, the product, and the person. This is not a style that can be faked, employees must actually be inspired, or they will not perform as well.

When to use this style: This can be a great style in tech companies who are looking to disrupt industries, nonprofits trying to innovate creative solutions to problems, or companies who have a very strong sense of purpose. An organization that wants to drive innovation can turn to this style to galvanize their staff into action.

Management styles interview questions

It is important to know the type of management style that a potential employee will use. According to Gallup, companies fail to choose the right candidate for management jobs 82% of the time.

According to the same study, managers have a massive impact on employee engagement, turnover, productivity and many other factors that lead to positive business outcomes.

Knowing that, being able to ask the right questions about management styles is an important factor in choosing the right candidates. HR teams should be prepared with a management styles quiz for potential applicants, so that they can see how they will fit into the preferred styles of the organization.

It is important to note that styles can (and should) be somewhat dynamic, but most managers will have one style that they prefer to use.

Management styles example questions

During the interview, HR can ask questions like:

1. A PR crisis is quickly unfolding and you and your team need to act now to handle it. What do you do?

  1. Handle it myself. I plan a strategy and delegate what needs to be done to my team, with strict instructions for them to follow up with me the moment they are done with their tasks.
  2. Gather my team for a planning session. I’ll listen to everyone’s opinion, work with the team to plan the best response, then we will all get to work handling the crisis.
  3. I leave it to my team to handle this. They are professionals and know what needs to be done. I’ll check in with them after to review how it was handled and give feedback.

In this situation, A indicates autocratic, B is democratic, and C is laissez-faire.

2. There is an important project that you need to plan. How do you go about doing that?

  1. I will gather my team, give them all the information they need, and let them get to work.
  2. I inform staff of the new project, and assign all roles, milestones, objectives and timelines. Everyone will know what they need to complete, and I will continually check-in to make sure they are successful.
  3. I’ll meet with key employees, work with them to outline various plans for the project, then present the plans to the team. Whichever gets the most votes we will do.

In this situation, A is laissez-faire, B is autocratic, and C is democratic.

3. Your team is going to miss an important deadline. How do you handle this situation?

  1. I’ll work alongside my team to create and implement a solution to avoid a similar situation in the future.
  2. I leave them to it. They are skilled, imaginative people and I trust that they’ll figure it out.
  3. I will make sure that teams have the resources they need to meet the deadline. Afterward, I will review the process, find problem areas, and improve the process.

In this situation, A is democratic, B is laissez-faire and C is autocratic.

4. Which of the following qualities is most important for your team to have?

  1. Diligence
  2. Innovative
  3. Cooperative

In this situation, A is autocratic, B is laissez-faire and C is democratic.

5. What qualities do you not want your team members to have?

  1. Unskilled
  2. Undisciplined
  3. Not a team player

In this situation, A is laissez-faire, B is autocratic, and C is democratic.

6. How would you like your team to feel about their jobs?

  1. They have structure and support, their tasks and goals have been explained thoroughly, they know the exact steps to success.
  2. They are allowed to innovate and create, they are trusted to perform and they enjoy rising to the occasion.
  3. They are heard and valued. Their skills contribute to the success of the organization and they are an important team member.

In this situation, A is autocratic, B is laissez-faire, and C is democratic.

Conflict management styles

Conflict management is an important aspect to consider when hiring a manager, and it is different from the general management style. There is no correlation between management styles and conflict management styles - although a skilled manager should be able to switch conflict management styles depending on the situation, just as they should be able to adjust their general management style.

Learn more about the five conflict management styles. Each of them has pros and cons, and times where they will be more or less appropriate.