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What Is Your Management Style?

04 January 2024
Manager giving instructions to his team

One of the most common and perfectly reasonable questions asked by people transitioning from a single contributor role to a management role is which management style(s) should I use?

The reason this is such a reasonable, yet complicated question is that the term "management style" encompasses a multitude of approaches, each with its unique blend of pros and cons. From the traditional to the avant-garde, management styles play a pivotal role in shaping the dynamics within teams and Organisations.

In 2022, the Niagara Institute published the results from a global leadership quiz that was completed by 1,164 professionals from 48 countries. Interestingly there was a heavy lean towards collaborating with teams, for example 89.9% of respondents claim to consult with their people before making decisions, yet 80.7% of respondents worried about being liked by their colleagues.

This article will review some of the most prevalent management styles available, including the pros and cons to help you decide which is the best style for you.

Discovering an effective management style involves a blend of self-awareness, adaptability, and a deep understanding of the team’s dynamics. Successful managers often employ a mix of styles, tailoring their approach to suit various situations and team members’ needs. It’s crucial to recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach seldom yields optimal results.

If you are looking for a simple guiding star, be authentic and true to yourself rather than trying to accommodate a style that does not meet with your values and beliefs in order to fit in.

Are management styles and leadership styles the same thing?

In a word, the lazy answer to this question is no. As we wrote in our article "What is leadership in management?" a manager is responsible for planning, coordinating, and executing specific strategies to ensure that the daily operations of the business run smoothly. Managers are concerned with the 'how' of achieving objectives, focusing on the tactical aspects of the Organisation.

Leadership provides the vision and inspiration, setting the stage for the journey. Management, in turn, lays out the roadmap and navigates the practical path to achieve the desired destination. The route you take may change according to circumstances but ultimately the end destination will not.

When it comes to labelling management or leadership styles however, it is important to factor in cultural differences. For example, in some countries there is a perception that leaders are superior to managers from a hierarchical perspective, whereas in other countries this is very much not the case.

What are the most prevalent management styles?

To help you decide which style(s) are likely a good fit for you and your personal circumstances, let’s explore four options and look at the pros and cons of each.

Transactional leadership:

Sometimes referred to as a directive, telling or autocratic style, this approach is based on a manager asking or telling someone to do something and in return they receive something in return, hence the term transactional.

The something in return may be a positive reward such as praise or a bonus payment, yet alternatively it may be in the form of something less positive, such as mandating an unpopular request because they missed a deadline.

The likes of Bill Gates, Lord Alan Sugar and Sir Alex Ferguson have often been associated with this style of leadership.

Confusion and guesswork are eliminated as tasks and expectations are clearly mapped out by the leader. This can be particularly useful in emergency situations where decisions need to be taken swiftly and with authority.

Due to the rigid environment and expectations, creativity and innovation may be stifled. Due to people not being encouraged to think for themselves, this style can also result in time management challenges as you are more likely to be asked to repeat instructions.

Democratic leadership:

Sometimes referred to as participative or collaborative leadership, this approach is based on a manager encouraging a culture where people work together and colleagues are actively involved in the decision-making process. Ideas and input from others are valued with discussion encouraged.

Therefore, orders are not handed down from on high but instead there is a much more collaborative approach to getting things done.

The likes of Nelson Mandela, Sir Clive Woodward and Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft) have often been associated with this style of leadership.

Creativity and innovation are encouraged, which can improve job satisfaction and a sense of being valued among employees and team members. Encouraging debate and innovation can also lead to great ideas from those ‘at the coal face’ and with subject matter expertise.

This can be perceived by some as design by committee and by the more cynical, an attempt to curry favour or dissolve themselves of blame if decisions backfire. Persistently trying to achieve consensus among a group can be exhausting and inefficient and, in some cases, costly where decisive action is required. As the saying goes, it is impossible to please all of the people all of the time.

Laissez-faire leadership:

Sometimes referred to as delegative, hands off or free style leadership, this approach is based on a manager trusting their people to get on with their job with minimum or little supervision.

Laissez-faire is a French term that translates as “leave it be”. Managers will provide the necessary tools and resources but then they step back and let their team members make decisions, solve problems, and get their work accomplished.

The likes of Queen Victoria, Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs have often been associated with this style of leadership.

This level of trust and independence is empowering for teams that are capable enough of being creative and self-motivated. They certainly won’t be accusing their managers of being a micromanager or obsessively scrutinising their every move, which can be extremely liberating.

This can rapidly lead to chaos and confusion if a team isn’t organised or capable enough to be self-directed. There may also be a perception of the manager not caring enough or being close enough to what is going on which can in turn lead to a lack of trust or respect.

Servant leadership:

Sometimes referred to as affiliative, supportive or empowering leadership, this approach is based on a manager serving first and leading second, prioritising the needs of others above their own.

Those who adopt this style focus on elevating and developing the people who follow them, allowing them to shine rather than relying on authority and power to lead.

As Simon Sinek eloquently explains in his book,”Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t“:

“Leaders are the ones who are willing to give up something of their own for us. Their time, their energy, their money, maybe even the food off their plate. When it matters, leaders choose to eat last.”

The likes of Jesus Christ, Mahatma Ghandi and Abraham Lincoln have often been associated with this style of leadership.

This approach can boost morale and lead to a high level of trust, resulting in better employee performance and a more positive culture overall. It appeals to those worried about their colleagues not liking them and can lead to internal promotion as individuals are given the floor to share their knowledge and expertise.

This can be challenging and exhausting. Constantly pushing your own needs and priorities to the backburner isn’t something that comes as second nature for many of us and there is a danger that the value added by the manager themselves is not always visible.

Which are the most common leadership styles?

The results of the Niagra Institute leadership styles quiz points to there being two front runners when it comes to favoured approaches with one dominant favourite:

  1. Democratic Leadership: 46.9% of respondents said they favoured this style
  2. Servant Leadership: 20.6% of respondents said they favoured this style

It is interesting to remember that this was a global survey and that in individual countries, there is likely to be a favourite based on culture. Comparing leadership styles between the UK and US for example involves understanding the cultural, historical, and socio-economic factors that shape management approaches.

While specific statistics on leadership styles are not readily available, some studies and surveys suggest that the UK might lean more towards Democratic, while the US might exhibit a preference for a Transactional style.

Is it difficult to change your leadership style?

As the leadership styles we have discussed in this article prove, there’s a time and place for all the different methods—there isn’t one default “best” way to lead.

That’s why a so-called situational leadership style is useful. This involves combining all the styles described based on the situation and context of the situation. This gives you the flexibility to read the room, tailor your approach, and lead in a way that’s the most resonant and impactful.

The good news is that it is possible to change your personal leadership style. The key as we mentioned earlier is to practise being self-aware, remain authentic, remove ineffective habits for new ones that are more in line with the style you’d like to align with and remain committed to practising your new leadership style and technique.

For example, if you tend to be autocratic and want to incorporate some more democratic practices, try some things that force you to relinquish some power like:

  • Requesting a second opinion on a decision you’re making.
  • Instituting a weekly brainstorming session with your team.
  • Asking a colleague to co-lead a project that you otherwise might have handled yourself.

If you or your organisation would benefit from an outside view of your current management style, or if you have identified areas where you need support with adapting your style, click here or give us a call on 01295 675506 for more information and a no obligation consultation.

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