Management Styles


Jack-of-all styles? What is your management style? Situational leadership calls for a variety of management styles, depending not only upon your personality, but on the needs of the situation.

Have you heard the one about mushroom management? It’s when you keep staff in the dark, shovel a layer of fresh manure over them every now and again, sit back and expect good results.

But let’s get serious, and acknowledge that this is actually an example of the typical appalling behaviour some managers use, whether they are aware of it or not.

Management Style is an umbrella term that describes a typical set of behaviours that leaders operate from. Knowing your typical management style will help you to understand yourself better, and assess whether you need training in order to adopt other management styles according to the ever-changing situational needs of the organisation.

What’s your style?

How well do you know yourself? Identifying your typical management style will unearth the strengths and weakness of your character, knowledge, and skills.

This can be accomplished through self-study, formal classes, reflection, interacting with others, questionnaires and training courses. It is important to understand which style you typically adopt. Even if you have had no reason to doubt the effectiveness of your style, the consensus among most management experts is that ‘one best’ style does not exist.

A manager’s effectiveness

A manager’s effectiveness is determined not by what style she prefers to use, but rather on whether or not the style fits the needs of the employee. This approach, called ‘situational leadership’, requires that a manager vary her style depending upon the answer to two questions: How competent is an employee at a task? How much independence does the employee show in doing the task?

Situational leadership has become an accepted approach to managing people because it takes into account the differences in employees and offers direction on how to move an employee from a lower to a higher level of competency and independence. Using it makes your job much easier because employees will learn how to manage themselves. Effectiveness consists of being able to use a variety of management styles that focus either principally on people, and/or assessing situations, and/or directly getting the task accomplished. All situations are different. What you do in one situation will not always work in another. You must use your judgement to decide the management style needed for each situation.

Get on the grid

More than a decade ago, the Managerial Grid was introduced as a tool to gain knowledge of one’s managerial style. This grid enables people to gain perspective on understanding various approaches to leadership. The axes are: Concern for Task and Concern for People, measured on a scale from 1 (low) to 9 (high).

Authoritarian leader (high task, low relationship)

People who get this rating are very much task oriented and are hard on their workers. There is little or no allowance for cooperation or collaboration. Heavily task-oriented people display these characteristics: they are very strong on schedules; they expect people to do what they are told without question or debate; when something goes wrong they tend to focus on who is to blame rather than concentrate on exactly what is wrong and how to prevent it; they are intolerant of what they see as dissent so it is difficult for their subordinates to contribute or develop. Operational efficiency results from arranging working conditions so that human elements interface only minimally.

The authoritarian style is characterised by instructing people how to do tasks – when an employee needs additional education to be productive, trained on new skills (procedures, equipment, etc.), or instructed on policies, procedures, guide lines, regulations and rules. This is done by closely supervising their performance, and doing most of the decision-making and problem solving yourself. This style is most appropriate with people who are new to a task, or who are weak performers, or if you are in the middle of a crisis and don’t have time to consult with them. People who use this style exclusively are seen as being autocratic.

Team leader (high task, high relationship)

This type of person leads by positive example and endeavours to foster a team environment in which all team members can reach their highest potential, both as team members and as people. They encourage the team to reach team goals as effectively as possible, while also working tirelessly to strengthen the bonds among the various members. They normally form and lead some of the most productive teams.

This style requires the manager to continue providing direction but to also involve employees more in problem solving and decision making. They “lead from behind” through providing encouragement and the organisational tools to ensure that others can do their jobs effectively. They assist employees to build and buy into their own vision of what can be done. This is accomplished by soliciting people’s opinions, answering questions, and showing a personal interest in them as individuals. This style is appropriate when people are no longer beginners but are still not fully skilled or confident in their ability to do a task.

Country club style (low task, high relationship)

This person uses predominantly reward power to maintain discipline and to encourage the team to accomplish its goals. Thoughtful attention is given to the needs of people for satisfying relationships, which leads to a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. You use this style when employees are capable of performing a task but are lacking in confidence. In this role, you are often a sounding board as they voice their concerns or discuss problems. However, rather than solve these problems for them, you offer support or engage them in a dialogue that allows them to solve the problems themselves. Doing so fosters independence and self-confidence in employees.

Managers who typically use this style are often incapable of employing punitive, coercive and legitimate powers. This inability results from fear that using such powers could jeopardise relationships with the other team members.

Impoverished style ( low task, low relationship)

A leader who uses a “delegate and disappear” management style. They essentially allow their team to do whatever it wishes and prefer to detach themselves from the team process by allowing the team to suffer from a series of power struggles. Use this style with employees who are both skilled and confident in their ability to do a job. Employees at this stage manage themselves and only come to you for new goals or projects or if they need assistance. If you use this style before employees are ready, they may feel that you have abandoned them as a boss.

It’s not just about you

Always manage with the goal of making your employees more competent and self-sufficient. Many people believe that the only way to manage is to delegate. Some managers still believe they must be tough, resolute, decisive and all-knowing. An ambitious young assistant editor was enjoying her chance to prove that she could handle a daily newspaper in her boss’s absence, but she had no idea the mutinous effect her dictatorial management style was having on the rest of the team. A colleague, who was also a friend, took her to one side and warned the eager beaver to treat everyone better because her nickname was now Adolf Hitler. “Good, I’m glad. They need someone to be tough with them,” was her reply.

Be self-aware: if you are stuck in any style, you need to either find environments in which such a style is appropriate, or change your style.

Knowing the score

By playing the laissez-faire impoverished manager, you allow your team to gain self-reliance. Be an Authoritarian Leader to instil a sense of discipline in an unmotivated worker. People will accept directive leadership if they know it is appropriate. People will also find delegation very trying when it is inappropriate. The same person may need instruction in one part of the job, support in another and teaching in yet a third.

Using an authoritarian style with an employee who is competent can result in the degradation of the person’s confidence and skills – and make them resent you. Using a supporting or delegating approach when the employee is incompetent just sets the employee up to fail and makes you appear indifferent. By correctly assessing where your employee is and matching his or her needs with an appropriate style, both of you end up with your goals satisfied.

Each style can be appropriate, neutral or inappropriate, depending upon the situation. Continue to evaluate and change your style as the employee develops in competency and confidence or you will cause that employee to get stuck at too low a development level. Be prepared to use different styles with the same person because while she may be confident and competent on one task, a new task will require a different style.

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