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Natalia Rossingol

9 Management Styles Decoded: When to Be a Mentor, Coach, or Visionary

Different challenges in the workplace require different management styles. Here's the classification of widely known styles and when it's best to use them.

The future of a project or a whole company highly depends on the manager's personality, daily actions, and attitudes. These factors influence all key elements of managerial work, forming a special pattern of behavior called a management style.

There are many different management styles, and each can bring great results if used in the right situation. Knowing them well may help you realize if the style you're using is what you really need - and if not, which one would be the most suitable for you.

What is a management style?

A management style is a particular type of behavior a manager adopts to lead a team. This behavior dictates how exactly managers will perform their tasks, like making decisions, organizing and aligning work processes, allocating resources, and many others.   

Every manager has a style, even when he or she isn’t aware of it, and even when it's not recorded officially. The approaches managers take, the words they say, the ways of working they advocate for, their policies – these all are the things building a certain management style. 

In fact, the behavior of a manager can actually be a mixture of two or more styles, each of which is used in particular situations.

We should also point out the difference between “management” and “leadership” styles. While management is more about planning, execution, and organization, leadership concerns motivating and inspiring employees. However, since managers are often leaders, or at least are expected to be such, the terms “management” and “leadership styles” are often used interchangeably.

Types of management styles

Roughly speaking, all of management styles can be grouped into three categories – autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. Within each of the categories, you may find substyles, representing more detailed approaches.

Below we will explore the 9 of the most popular management styles.

Autocratic management styles

This group comprises management styles characterized by a centralized, top-down decision-making process. Autocratic managers use power as the main force for pushing their teams. Sometimes, it may turn a manager into a dictator.

The characteristics of the autocratic management style are:

  1. Limited or no input from the team. Autocratic leaders do not expect team members to express opinions or make initiatives, and they do not ask for feedback. Instead, they make the most important decisions by themselves.
  2. A rigidly structured environment. Typically, an autocratic environment is very structured, representing a top-down pyramid with a strict chain of command.
  3. Clear rules. What’s important, in autocracy, these rules are established by higher leadership.

In his article “Impact of Leadership Styles on Organizational Performance,” Ebrahim Hasan Al Khajeh, Lincoln University College, UAE, points out that although autocratic leadership can be effective with short-term projects and projects that need to be completed within a provided deadline, it's not as effective for projects in long perspective.

Examples: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Elon Musk (Tesla and Space X), Martha Stewart (The Martha Stewart Living Omnipedia).

1. Authoritative style

When authority is total, so too is the madness of the man who declares it, and the potential for abuse of power. – Rick Wilson, an American political strategist

Authoritative style is actually the purest representation of the autocratic management style. Some studies even use these two terms as synonyms.

Managers who stick to it set goals for their teams and expect them to perform all the processes without questions. Failures to meet expectations, as well as breaking discipline, lead to consequences.  

The authoritative management style is very controversial. It’s the oldest and most traditional one, and its effectiveness has been proven by history.

However, the concept of leadership has been changing, and now the authoritative management style is not the only and dominant one. In fact, today, this style may prove more detrimental than useful.

The pros:

  • It’s time-efficient. If only one person makes a decision, it will come into action in a shorter time-frame.
  • Reduced employee mistakes. Authoritative managers closely control their employees. This way, they prevent the chance of mistake.

The cons:

  • It discourages initiative and may kill morale. When people are not trusted to complete their tasks by themselves, they can easily lose motivation.
  • A lack of perspectives. A manager can be very experienced and knowledgeable, but it doesn’t mean he or she knows everything. Very often, team members can provide valuable information which is typically missed out on by an authoritative manager.  

When to use:

When a decision needs to be made quickly, or when team members lack experience.

2. Persuasive

The fool tries to convince me with his reasons; the wise man persuades me with my own. – Robert T. Oliver, an American writer

In the persuasive management style, the decision-making power still belongs to a manager. However, persuasive managers take the trouble to explain what their decisions are based on, in order to get a buy-in.

Besides, they try to persuade their team members to take specific actions. This can be done through effective communication and active listening.

The pros:

Letting people know the rationale behind their decisions, managers show respect and make employees feel valued.

The cons:

Team members still have no influence over their work, which stifles motivation.

When to use:

  • With inexperienced teams.
  • Introducing a new idea.
  • When a company is going through changes, to explain why the change is needed and how to best deal with it.

3. Paternalistic

A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be. – Rosalynn Carter, an American writer and the wife of the US President Jimmy Carter

The name of this style comes from a Latin word “pater,” which stands for “father.” Managers who use this style see themselves as a parent, and their teams – as families, whom they’re in charge of.

Paternalistic managers make all the decisions by themselves, and act as authority figures – however, the decisions are made taking into consideration the wishes and needs of the team. In return, such managers expect loyalty and obedience.

The pros:

  • Paternalistic managers truly care for their team’s well-being, and this positively impacts the team culture.
  • Even though team members do not directly make decisions, they can express their desires and share concerns. This is a sign of a psychologically safe environment, which has a very positive effect on both employees’ mental health and their performance.

The cons:

  • The personality of the manager still outweighs the personalities of the rest of the team.
  • The hierarchy is still present, and any shift from the imposed rules can break the feeling of loyalty, bringing in conflicts.  
  • Paternalistic managers are notorious for favoritism. By treating people unfairly, managers unwillingly make them feel resentment and jealousy.  

When to use:

This style will be more useful in smaller companies rather than large, and can be used to foster a friendly work environment .

Democratic management styles

Democratic management styles are those that distribute decision-making power. Everyone is welcome to participate in discussions, express ideas, and make suggestions. The manager can still be the one to make the final decision, but everyone has a right to voice, and their voice is always heard.   

The characteristics of the democratic management style:

  1. Engagement. Team members are actively engaged in work. They can develop goals, both short- and long-term, suggest improvements, and point out hazards. This way, they’re typically more willing to contribute.
  2. Creativity. It’s encouraged and rewarded. It means the company will be more adaptable, and it will be easier to overcome the challenges posed by the rapidly changing environment.
  3. Collaboration. Teams look for the best solutions, which makes them share expertise and work together.

According to Al Khajeh, the democratic management style has a positive influence on organizational performance. Since praise and criticism are given objectively, people know where they need to improve. Besides, the ability to make decisions forms a sense of responsibility.

Examples: Tim Cook (the CEO of Apple,) Muhtar Kent (the CEO of Coca-Cola), Ray Dalio (the founder of Bridgewater Associates.)    

4. Consultative

The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves. – Ray Kroc, an American businessman

Managers who follow this style look for feedback from their teams. They have the authority to make the final decision – however, they ask team members to express opinions and share knowledge, to ensure the decision makes sense.

When managers ask subordinates for input, they develop a strong sense of team spirit. However, to be ready to share the input, people need to feel comfortable enough. It’s impossible in environments where employees feel they might be punished for speaking up – for example, criticizing the boss, even if the criticism is totally justified. 

The ability to ask your team for feedback requires managers to let go of their egos – and as we know, for some people it might be challenging. However, showing your vulnerability and admitting that you don’t know everything helps build a corporate culture of trust and empathy. And trust is the glue that keeps every relationship, including work ones, together. 

The pros:

  • It increases engagement, as team members feel valued.
  • It improves the quality of decisions, since they are based on the input of many people.

The cons:

  • It’s time-consuming. To hear the thoughts of other team members, a manager needs to hold multiple meetings. This will not work for urgent decisions.
  • Since people often suggest conflicting opinions, someone will be left unhappy as their opinion won’t be included.

When to use: 

The consultative management style is effective in situations when a decision that needs to be made requires specialized knowledge.

5. Collaborative

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. – Isaac Newton, an English scientist

Collaborative management means letting the team make a decision as a team. Any idea is brought up for discussion, and the decision will depend on what the majority of the team says. This lets team members discuss all details of the issue and come up with the best solution.

The collaborative management style is typical for self-managed teams. A great example is Buurtzorg - a Dutch healthcare organization, which consists from self-governing teams of 10 to 20 nurses responsible for around 60 patients in a certain neighborhood. The members of these teams take care of basically all organizational and work issues, having autonomy and making independent decisions.

According to Harvard Business Review, collaborative managers look for and are willing to accept diverse opinions to find the best strategy. This has numerous benefits – it unleashes creativity, keeps people more engaged, and helps create a productive and healthy work culture.

The collaborative management style can be especially successful for virtual and even asynchronous workplaces – environments where people work remotely from different time zones. If team members share information, keep communication lines open, know their roles, and pursue the same goal, time difference and distance are not a problem.

The pros:

  • Each and every idea is open for discussion, which gives every person a chance to make suggestions.
  • Healthy work environment.

The cons:

Decision-making takes longer, as it takes time to process multiple ideas.

When to use:

This management style is best used for dealing with complex problems, making plans, and generating fresh ideas.

6. Transformational

Transformational leaders don’t start by denying the world around them. Instead, they describe a future they’d like to create instead. – Seth Godin, an American author and enterpreneur

The transformational management style focuses on caring for professional growth of your team. It is aimed at developing adaptability and encouraging innovation, and is focused on long-term goals rather than short-term ones.

Transformational managers consider the needs of their people, and at the same time, they encourage team members to look beyond their self-interest, for the sake of professional development.

According to the researcher Bernard M. Bass, who expanded the concept of transformational leadership, earlier developed by James V. Downton, there are 4 factors that define it:

  1. Idealized influence. Transformational managers lead by example, being a role model for their teams. They don’t manipulate people into working hard – rather, they inspire them to through commitment and respect.
  2. Intellectual stimulation. Such managers let their teams explore new ideas and opportunities.
  3. Inspirational motivation. Employees need to be emotionally attached to the company goal, so a leader must give them a strong sense of purpose.
  4. Individual consideration. Every employee is a unique person with specific needs and goals. A transformational manager must help their people reach their goals, both personal and professional.  

 The pros: 

  • This style is perfect for well-motivated team members who seek professional growth.
  • It makes routine projects more interesting and inspiring.

The cons:

It won’t work for teams who lack motivation. For employees who are on the verge of burnout, it can even cause more stress. 

When to use:

When teams are ready to move forward.

7. Coaching

The interesting thing about coaching is that you have to trouble the comfortable, and comfort the troubled. – Ric Charlesworth, an Australian sports coach 

To explain what coaching management style is, we can draw a parallel with sports – here a manager is like a coach, helping his or her team win by developing and polishing their skills.

Such managers work closely with their employees and try to bring the best out of them, contributing to their personal and professional development.

The coaching management style focuses on long-term goals, treating everyday mistakes as a part of the learning process. It means that managers in the coaching role must continuously deliver constructive feedback, highlighting weak spots and helping determine strong suits.

It’s very important to balance praise and criticism, as well as deliver them as soon as possible. There is no need to wait till the end of the quarter or a year – good managers give their remarks right in the work process, spending not more than one minute. The golden rule is to give praise in public, and criticism – in private.       

Another thing coaching managers often do is a one-on-one session – a conversation between a manager and an employee during which a manager can provide support, express concerns, or listen to ideas and suggestions. It’s a very effective way of establishing trust.

The pros:

  • It helps improve communication in a team.
  • It empowers employees, making them feel supported and valued.

The cons:

  • Some employees may not be willing to open up.
  • This style is time–consuming, so it won’t work for time-sensitive matters. 

When to use:

When team members show potential for growth, but need guidance, on condition managers are not time-limited.

Laissez-faire management styles

The term “laissez-faire” comes from French, and literally translates as “let you do.” Managers who follow this style give their teams autonomy and meet them only when necessary. This way, teams have the decision-making power and freedom to make mistakes in the middle of the work process. Yet, the leader is still in charge of the final result.

Laissez-faire managers believe in their people’s abilities and skills. They do not micromanage, and they’re not too involved. Placing trust in team members, they make them more confident, which typically has a positive impact on performance.

For a team to function properly and smoothly, such a manager must provide all the materials and resources needed for their work. Besides, team members may need to undergo special training.

Laissez-faire management style can significantly increase employee engagement, as they will be motivated by their own thoughts and ideas.

Characteristics of the laissez-faire management style:

  • High levels of autonomy.
  • Accountability. When a manager gives employees the freedom to make their own decisions, everyone is accountable for their own work. This motivates people to do their best.
  • Access to resources and tools.

However, this approach can create certain confusion. Without a leader, it may be hard to figure out who’s in charge of what – besides, it may lead to unofficial leadership, when a more dominant person take on more responsibility and power. Consequently, it may lead to a lack of structure.

Examples: Steve Jobs (the co-founder of Apple,) Warren Buffet (the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway.)

8. Visionary

Too many people are confusing charisma with autocrat, fat cat…Whether we call it charisma or not, a leader cannot be self-effacing to the point of being wimpy. – Noel Tichy, an American management consultant and author

This type of laissez-faire management style is focused on the future success of the company. In fact, this is rather a leadership style.

Visionary managers (or leaders) develop a perfect picture of the future and figure out what place they want their company to take in that future. They share this vision with their teams and inspire them to get there, instead of giving them strict directions.

Typically, visionary leaders are very charismatic – which means their teams are willing to follow them.

Among the characteristics of leaders using the visionary management style, we can name the following:

  1. They’re optimistic. Visionary leaders truly believe in success. Their faith in success is contagious and inspiring.
  2. They’re plan-oriented. Such managers do not just have a vision – they make actual strategic plans, determining which steps need to be taken to achieve the goal.
  3. They’re good at communicating. To turn vision into a reality, managers need to make sure teams understand that vision. This means they have to communicate well – and even overcommunicate.
  4. They’re creative. To develop a vision that would help their companies survive in a highly competitive world, managers need to think creatively and look for new paths.

The pros:

Visionary leaders inspire people, and this boosts performance and innovation. If the vision is well-communicated and buy-in achieved, people will get passionate enough to achieve an ambitious goal.

The cons:

The visionary management style will work only for truly charismatic people, who literally emanate faith in success. 

9. Delegative

No one will make a great business who wants to do it all themselves or take all the credit. – Andrew Carnegie, an industrialist and philanthropist

When managers delegate tasks to individual team members, their style is referred to as delegative. It mainly involves assigning tasks and reviewing results.

Using the delegative management style, managers give their teams more control and power, which means they need to trust their skills. Team members can do their tasks the way they consider right. However, managers take responsibility for assigning tasks appropriately, taking into account the experience and knowledge of employees. Besides, they can guide the start of a project.

 The pros:

  • No micromanagement.
  • Promotes individual employee development.
  • Strengthens employee satisfaction and, consequently, improves retention.

The cons:

A team may need more support from a manager, both technical or personal. Without outer control, some teams will not be able to work smoothly.

When to use:

When employees have more experience and competence than a manager. 

All of the above mentioned management styles have value. To pick the one that would work perfectly for you, first of all, think about your team. Are your team members self-sufficient? Are they experienced enough? Do they need extra support?

By answering these questions, you will understand how to enhance your work as a manager. 

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