Management styles encompass the different paths and actions a manager pursues to help his team and company succeed.
Examples of this include:
- How a manager motivates the team to achieve the best results
- The way they structure and implement future plans
- The way they provide and advise a company or employee to pursue a certain direction
Managers greatly influence a project or company’s end goal and aspirations.
Through their domain knowledge and leadership skills, they can tremendously benefit their employees and colleagues, their work, the development of their products, and even the company’s end goal and long-term success.
That said, a magic recipe for perfect management does not exist. Not every manager has the same aspirations and goals for the company’s future.
This leads to questions like, “So how did those companies do it, is their way the recipe to success?” or “What is truly the best management style?”
There are no exact answers to these questions. Still, throughout recent years, people who have studied the most successful companies and managers from various industries and domains have come up with the main variants of leadership styles that these companies used to achieve long-term success.
It is now known that throughout time seven management styles worked efficiently for the biggest companies today, but questions remain, ”Are they best fit for your goals, company, and team? Are they even worth implementing in today’s ever-changing product market?”
This article will try to answer these questions by presenting these seven management styles and further analyzing their best and worst practices.
Here’s a sneak peek: a total of 7 management styles summed up in the following table—6 of which are adapted from Goleman’s research paper:
Management styles characteristics
History of employee motivation
But for starters, let’s analyze Douglas McGregor’s theory which will give you a better insight into why humans inherently need managers to guide them regarding work-related activities.
The X and Y theory first came to light in the 1950s, with further developments done in the 1960s.
McGregor composed two theories based on two contrasting ways of approaching management, both linked to studies conducted on behavioral patterns seen in the workforce at the time.
Theory X is mainly linked to the authoritarian approach prevalent at that time in all the structural aspects of society, government, and work.
It assumes that the typical worker avoids responsibility, lacks ambition, and is completely disinterested in work-related activities if not closely supervised.
The Theory X manager bases their style on a hands-on approach, leaning on strategies such as immediate punishment and close supervision.
Theory X was mainly implemented in domains focused on manual labor, where the main goal was mass-producing more products.
In today’s day and age, Theory X’s soft approach is more likely to be used. The soft approach believes in less strict rules and more cooperation. However, it still builds its ground on the belief that if a soft and supervision-free system is implemented, it could lead to a low-output, unmotivated, and uninterested workforce.
According to IvyPanda, the following companies use Theory X as a management style:
- Ford Motor
Theory Y suggests that humans can find enjoyment in their work and self-motivate if they are devoted to the company’s objectives. We all possess the ability to take ownership of our work, seek out responsibilities, and solve problems creatively when management provides proper support. Therefore, McGregor suggested a democratic management approach prioritizing individual contributions over control.
Theory Y is known to have benefits such as a healthier and more creative work environment and the development of a better company-employee relationship.
According to IvyPanda, the following companies use Theory Y as a management style:
Nine years later, Abraham Maslow would iterate on McGregor’s theories and add a new dimension derived from his famous hierarchy: the need for self-actualization.
Theory Z was born, suggesting that a small group of individuals, known as transcenders, strive for peak experiences beyond just achieving their own goals. These individuals can think more deeply about global issues and come up with solutions. In contrast, their peers who follow Theory Y tend to stop when fulfilling personal goals.
It was only later, in 2000, when Daniel Goleman, with the help of the consulting firm Hay/McBer, analyzed these and other theories, that a cohesive and structured summary of leadership styles was born.
His list of 6 management styles is based on different aspects of emotional intelligence, and it showcases when and how to implement each of the described approaches in relation to what goal you wish to achieve.
We added the Laissez-Faire management style to our list, as it emphasizes employee freedom and self-directed teams. It has gained popularity among high-growth startups and creative businesses, even though Kurt Lewin and his team introduced it as early as 1939.
If you want to know more about what style best fits you, your employees, and your company, consider taking this pen-and-paper quiz.
Note: Before looking into these management styles, remember that each manager has a set of tools they prefer using. If you are a manager looking for low-cost tools to use with your team, please check this article on project planning tools, in which we compare the most popular project management tools.
Moving forward, we will present each of the mentioned management styles in more detail so you can make a clearer idea as to:
- When to use them
- Why use them
- Their pros and cons
The matrix below will also help you determine when to use each style based on team experience and company environment (crisis–stability):
When to use management styles
1. The Authoritarian management style
Also known as autocratic, coercive, or directive, this management style is the most controlling and is often synonymous with micromanagement, taking its key points and values from Theory X.
Only one authority figure, the manager, makes all the decisions and expects complete obedience.
A company based on values such as creative thought, long-term success, and quality products needs an engaged and motivated workforce.
Enforcing this management approach for an extended period will unlikely yield any benefits.
This leads us to the question, when and how to use this management style?
The Authoritarian leadership style is imposed in domains that prioritize error-free outcomes in urgent and specific situations, where the way a task is performed is exact and calculated, with little to no room for creativity and mistakes.
Examples of domains include:
For a company that tries to sell a product or evolve, it would be redundant to implement this management style long-term.
But, as we’ve already discussed, this style works best short-term and is only advised in critical situations.
Now, if your employees are already trained and they acknowledge crises from the get-go, this style might not even be needed. Yet, suppose you do find yourself in a crisis position requiring immediate decision-making and working with a new and inexperienced team. In that case, this leadership style might be a good short-term solution for a stable outcome.
Do be wary of the consequences, though, because even short-term implementation of the authoritarian management style might lead to long-term disadvantages such as loss of morale and employee disengagement.
Calculate your moves beforehand and make your team aware of this crisis from the get-go.
Assure them this will not be a long-term approach and help them understand why this is needed in the current situation.
2. The Visionary management style
The visionary management style is known for being transformational, influential, and authoritative. Its primary purpose is to lead and unite everyone towards a shared vision that resonates with everyone onboard.
The motto visionary managers lead by is, “Nothing is impossible.”
This style of management often leads to innovation and is considered the key that brought success to many names, such as:
- Elon Musk
- Nelson Mandela
- Coco Chanel
- Nick Woodman
- Henry Ford
The visionary manager inspires the team to achieve goals while giving them full autonomy over tasks.
When and how to use this management style?
A visionary leader gets to full potential with a top-notch team.
When you have the means to choose the most inspired, creative, and intelligent people, the ones that you feel a true connection with, and the ones that feel truly motivated by your goals and aspirations, then you can implement this management style for long-term success.
At the end of the day, the goal of visionary leadership is to make everything feel like constant progress and innovation rather than interminable tasks.
This style is not recommended if you do not fully know and trust your team or you do not currently have the means to form a team that will fully comprehend your vision.
If you feel like you are not yet a master of your soft skills, this style might lead to trust issues, inconsistent workflow, and undermining authority.
3. The affiliative management style
An affiliative manager’s main focus is building a harmonious and happy work environment.
This does sound good in theory, but problems arise when you refrain from giving constructive criticism or fully avoid confrontations to not stray from your principle.
When and how to use this management style?
This approach works best when you feel like your team lacks motivation, it feels disconnected, or you see certain animosities between the teammates.
When employees feel heard and understood during stressful times, they are more likely to perform and objectively understand the situation at hand.
Use this management style if your team needs help to mend their connection and reach common ground. Remind them of values such as understanding and bonding.
Yet, suppose you choose this management style long-term. In that case, we advise you to always use it in conjunction with another type of approach (for example, visionary) to avoid problems such as a stagnant team or a lack of goal achievement and performance.
4. The coaching management style
The coaching management style considers the employee’s long-term professional development the primary objective.
Coaching managers are focused on long-term goal achievement and employee success rather than short-term mistakes,
Their approach involves identifying each employee’s strengths and weaknesses and, later on, focuses on aligning each teammate’s personal goals with those of the company to achieve long-term success.
When and how to use this management style?
The coaching management style should be implemented throughout your team working relationship. It does not require a specific period for it to work best. For a team that considers working together long-term, this might be the best approach considering the importance of the benefits it brings both for the employee and the company.
That being said, you do need time and patience to fully see its benefits, so if your company requires and focuses on rapid results, this management style might not be the best fit for you.
Do also consider the potential and longevity of your team. If you feel like your teammates are not sure they want to pursue their current career long-term, it might be unreasonable to use this management style.
5. The pacesetting management style
The pacesetting management style is similar to the authoritative one, as it also has one leader who sets the pace and expects everyone to keep up without much guidance. If team members fail to meet expectations, they risk being fired and replaced.
Although it might look invigorating, this management style damages the overall work climate in the long run. By setting high standards of excellence without a clear plan on how to achieve them, managers leave their teams in limbo. As a result, morale is low and routine installs, each task representing a small check in the daily to-do list.
When and how to use this management style?
This management style works short-term under the condition that your team is aware, capable, and ready to focus on a high number of demands and tasks to achieve quick results.
Only use this method in critical periods, such as when you need a project to be done quickly and you need the team to meet the deadlines as fast as possible.
6. The Democratic management style
Also, going by the name of collaborative, consultative, or participative, the democratic management style is all about consensus. Team members are encouraged to voice their thoughts while the manager approves the final decision.
What makes this style charming is the benefits on both sides.
On the one hand, employees participate actively in the decision-making process, hence tend to be more realistic regarding what can be achieved and what can’t be.
On the other hand, managers can get easy buy-in and access to diverse ideas they wouldn’t have come up with without the team’s help. This also helps them gauge the team’s spirit and concern so they know how to boost their morale.
When and how to use this management style?
Beneficial as it may be, the democratic management style only works on a long-term approach since it lacks speed.
The goal of the democratic management style is to boost long-term employee engagement, and it can lead to advantages such as:
- Developing creative and innovative ways of problem-solving
- Boosts team morale
- Encourages conversation and feedback
It is not advised to use this style in times of crisis or with an inexperienced workforce.
7. The Laissez-Faire management style
“Laissez-faire” is French for “let do,” a phrase that this management style fully embodies – employees are given the freedom to carry out their tasks without any interference from the manager.
By adopting a relaxed approach, teams are empowered to handle their responsibilities with greater autonomy, leading to creativity and innovation boosts.
Managers may step in when necessary or upon request, confident in their skilled teams’ ability to independently resolve any minor issues that may arise.
When and how to use this management style?
The main benefit of this management style is that its hands-off approach tremendously develops and encourages creativity.
Consider using this approach when working with a motivated and skilled team, especially if a fresh, innovative, and creative perspective could greatly benefit the project’s end result.
Domains in which this management style works best include:
Do not use this style in times of crisis with an inexperienced team or while working on large projects with specific tasks if you do not fully trust your team yet.
This could lead to miscommunication, stagnation, and unfinished projects.
Factors that influence management styles
There’s no right or wrong management style. Each one of them is suitable for certain conditions and environments.
Many aspects can influence what management style works best for your team. Some of the main ones include:
Your personality, maturity, and skills
You need to know yourself professionally before you can fully coach and inspire your team.
Improve your abilities and skills first if your main goal is long-term success.
A skillful team cannot work at its full potential without top-notch management.
Tip: Consider analyzing and developing your soft skills. Where do your professional weaknesses and strengths truly lie?
It is not recommended to use fully hands-off management styles if you are not yet fully confident in and aware of your emotional intelligence. Improve your skills by taking on professional responsibilities before adopting one of the previously mentioned management styles.
It’s important to be honest with yourself and acknowledge your weaknesses. Don’t try to conceal them. Instead, trust your team to help make up for them, but don’t fully rely on them if you do not yet have security in your knowledge and their trust.
Your team member’s maturity
Team members who are self-motivated, highly skilled, and take pride in their work may be granted more freedom to act.
However, recent employees may benefit from more structure and discipline. At the same time, those with some experience but still relatively young might need guidance in developing their decision-making and critical-thinking skills.
When teams are newly formed, they need more guidance and help resolving conflicts than teams that have already been established. It’s best to use visionary management to create a shared vision and a sense of unity among the new team members while taking a more hands-off approach with established teams.
Teams that reside in the same office and often meet face-to-face for feedback can benefit from a laid-back environment. Remote teams, though, need a tighter approach with guidelines for them to work at their full potential.
When dealing with urgent projects or crises, a directive approach is necessary, prioritizing results over people short-term. However, a more relaxed approach is needed for a successful end result for long-term projects.
Focusing on both personal and professional development highly increases the chances of team bonding and innovation.
You might not feel it, but subconsciously you’re affected by the culture of the country that you live in. Geert Hofstede’s now six cultural dimensions speak loudly about the values of a company or team:
- Power Distance Index: how a culture handles inequality, particularly in relation to money and power.
- Individualism Versus Collectivism: the degree to which people in a culture are integrated into groups.
- Masculinity Versus Femininity: the extent to which a culture values traditionally masculine or feminine traits.
- Uncertainty Avoidance Index: how a culture tolerates ambiguity and uncertainty.
- Long-Term Orientation Versus Short-Term Orientation: the degree to which a culture values long-term planning and traditions versus short-term results.
- Indulgence Versus Restraint: the degree to which a culture indulges in life’s pleasures versus restraining oneself.
It’s important to note that how a culture scores in each of these six dimensions is not static and can shift and evolve over time. Furthermore, cultural dimensions all intertwine and influence each other.
For instance, in a collectivistic country, managers are more inclined to make consensus-based decisions (Mexic). In contrast, those living at a high-power distance (Asian countries in general) are comfortable with an authoritarian management style.
What is the right management style for you?
Surely, there are other styles and spinoffs out there. This is a partial list, as other not-so-popular management styles exist, like the transactional management style, which motivates employees by tying up performance with rewards.
Or the management by walking around (MBWA), a custom rather than a management style that emphasizes being reachable to your team. Like an open-door policy, managers walk between desks to check for progress and ensure their team members have everything they need to fulfill their work. In time, they can become a distraction, though.
This said, Daniel Goleman has pinned down four management styles every manager should master.
“Leaders who have mastered four or more—especially the authoritative, democratic, affiliative, and coaching styles—have the best climate and business performance.”
The secret to making them your own is to actually study the underlying emotional intelligence competencies specific to every style. So, for instance, if you’re an authoritarian manager and want to become more democratic in your approach, refine your active listening and communication skills.
Or, if you’re an affiliative one and want to use the coaching style, then focus on the art of delivering constructive feedback.
Also, each style has pros and cons when managing a team remotely. If you need more experience, start by reading this article on how to work remotely to understand better what style will best suit your team.
If you want more specific insight into what management style fits you and your team best, consider taking the quizzes below:
- Take Our Quiz | What’s Your Leadership Style? – Idealist
- What’s Your Leadership Style? – Learn About the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Way You Like to Lead
- Leadership Style Quiz: What Type of Leader Are You? | Psych Central
- The Predictive Index Management Style Quiz
- 4 Types of Leadership: Which one fits you? Take this QUIZ | UMass Global
First published on October 9, 2019.
Thanks to her expertise in Applied Modern Languages and her passion for copywriting, Denisa likes to embed creativity and analysis in her work. Through in-depth research, she has found a new passion for project management and personal time management, and enjoys anything that can further develop her creative thinking.
Drawing from a background in cognitive linguistics and armed with 10+ years of content writing experience, Alexandra Martin combines her expertise with a newfound interest in productivity and project management. In her spare time, she dabbles in all things creative.