At times, managing people can feel more like an art than a science. Approaches that work well with certain employees and in certain types of workplaces may prove ineffective in other circumstances. A good manager should be prepared to adapt his or her management style to the culture and business requirements of an organization, and to the dynamics of groups and personalities of individual employees.
Below are some common management styles, with descriptions of the types of environments in which they are likely to prove particularly effective, or as the case may be, counterproductive:
Authoritative. Managers who adopt this top-down approach tend to assume that people don’t like to work, and must be coerced into performing their jobs properly. Authoritative managers believe in imposing strict guidelines and policies, and insist that employees follow the rules. Managers who use this style seldom ask workers for their opinions, or participation in decision-making. Instead, they demand unquestioning obedience, and may even discipline employees who fall out of line.
While this style of management may produce compliance in the short-term, employees who work under authoritative managers may become discontented and rebellious. On the other hand, some form of this style may be appropriate in situations where employees lack self-discipline, and need very clear and precise instructions about how to carry out their duties.
Democratic. Advocates of the democratic style of management believe that the business benefits when employees are given the opportunity to express their opinions about the company’s operations, and to have some individual control over their work environment. At the same time, democratic managers cultivate cooperation and teamwork among employees.
Rather than threatening employees with negative consequences if they fail to produce the desired results, democratic managers offer incentives for superior performance, such as monetary bonuses or forms of public recognition. Managers using this approach focus on the positive aspects of an employee’s performance, encouraging them to build on their contributions by doing an even better job in future.
Organizations that promote the democratic style of management tend to report a high level of morale among their employees, and often profit from access to insights that only workers at the ground level can provide. This management approach is especially appropriate with employees who know their jobs well, and have proven that they can do their work without requiring constant supervision. Occasionally, however, employees may feel democratic managers are offering them too little direction or instruction, and may find it difficult to motivate themselves to make good choices.
Paternalistic. Managers who adopt this style are directive and make most decisions unilaterally. But unlike those managers who opt for an authoritative approach, paternalistic managers make an effort to show employees they care about them personally, often by throwing parties or offering certain perks. These managers are friendly up to a point, asking employees about their personal lives and showing an interest in their well-being.
The paternalistic style tends to work best when employees have much lower skill and responsibility levels than the managers. Workers who are more experienced and independent may, however, find this approach patronizing.
Reactive. Most management experts agree that this is one of the least effective management styles. Reactive managers fail to provide employees with guidelines and direction, and may neglect to supervise the work of their subordinates for days on end. Yet when it emerges that employees have not done their jobs correctly, these managers react by frantically trying to solve a problem that could probably have been prevented in the first place. The most dangerous reactive managers are those who, in an attempt to deflect blame from themselves, point fingers at others when things inevitably go wrong. Essentially, it’s best to strive not to be a reactive manager.
Laid-back. Sometimes referred to as laissez-faire, managers who use this style believe that by hiring the right people to do jobs that match their skills and abilities, the need to supervise their work will be minimal. Laid-back managers tend to treat employees as equal partners, discussing with them the work that needs to be done, and allowing them to make many of their own choices. This style may be especially appropriate for managers working with highly skilled and creative professionals who understand certain aspects of their jobs better than the managers themselves, and therefore require some latitude in decision-making. To avoid falling into the reactive trap, laid-back managers must ensure they are communicating regularly with employees, and are checking that performance goals are being met.