Management styles are mainly based on the two key elements of how one goes about making decisions and how one relates to people, which tend to point towards someone being either an autocratic or a permissive manager.

Whilst many managers may have little self-awareness of in which category they actually belong, most seeing themselves as being somewhere between benign dictators and kindly father figures, their subordinates generally have no doubt of their boss’s true style, and will therefore react accordingly.

However, I have long felt that these two categories of either autocracy or permissiveness are not definitive enough, and that within these two fairly broad categories of management styles, there are many sub-categories that define how managers tend to act when it comes to the decision processes that they use and how they interact and manage their people.

An autocratic manager believes that it is his role to make all the decisions with little regard for his subordinates, and as such the business unit will totally reflect the opinions and personality of the manager. Whilst this may give an impression of a well-run business, it is a style which does tend to drive away the better people who will find it hard to be excluded from any decision making process and who will find it even harder to live within very limited bounds of freedom. This style of “command and control” is still very evident in many French companies, which helps to explain why French workers are amongst the most dissatisfied with their management as shown in global surveys (see “Engagement has a nice ring to it” posted March 5, 2012).

Whilst a consultative manager tends to be a bit more people oriented, it is still essentially an autocratic style but with some emphasis being placed on employee interests as well as those of the business. Communications still tend to be downward, but feedback upwards to the manager is encouraged mainly in an attempt to build morale. This can work when the manager is highly charismatic and can build loyalty from his people, as at least their social needs are being addressed, but it does build an organisation where people are totally dependent on the leader. This is the typical style of many religious cult leaders.

Attribution: Jonestown Institute; via Wikimedia Commons

The persuasive manager is very aware of his subordinates, but not necessarily more inclusive and the management style has much in common with the dictatorial manager, as they still maintain total control over the decision process, but just spend more time working with people to convince them of the benefits of the decisions that have been made. This can be useful when the manager is a subject matter expert, for example a project manager in a complex project, who will take time to explain how the project will be run to ensure that the team is all “on the same page”, but where s/he will retain overall responsibility for making it work to plan.

A democratic manager involves employees in the decision process and consensus on decisions is sought from the majority, with extensive bi-directional communications. This is supportive of high job satisfaction and quality of work as it tends to drive high engagement, but can be an incredible barrier to speed of decision and execution as there are always many “chefs in the broth”. It can work well in complex projects that require many different subject matter experts for varied inputs to ensure a workable solution.

Author: World Economic Forum; via Wikimedia Commons

A French term but definitely a rare French style of management where the manager is more of a mentor and staff look after and manage their own business areas. This style can work well with an inspirational leader that truly understands all the different business initiatives, and who has creative and capable people who understand and share the organisational vision and mission. It can be successful where there are strong, entrepreneurial and creative groups of people, but can be a disaster when the leader does not have broad expertise and the skill to communicate a strong vision, as it can all degenerate into conflicting and divergent activities that deliver little benefit to the organisation because of lack of focus and direction.

A management style where the manager is still very autocratic but does really care about the quality of life and work of his people. Very common in Asian companies where staff turnover is rare and loyalty to the company over-rides all else. There is little questioning of authority and it is thus very similar in the way that most parents run their household. Like fathers, paternalistic managers will make decisions based on the fact that they know best what is needed for their children (workers) and that as long as one resides “in their house”, they have to abide by their rules.

Author: Robert D. Ward; via Wikimedia Commons

Many managers tend to live and act within just one management style, as generally that is the only style that they have and they feel that at least this ensures consistency, in that their people know how they will act in any given circumstance. I feel that the best managers have the ability to shift between the styles depending on the particular team and the situation or project being faced, particularly in complex and fast changing organisations, industries and markets, and that they can do this without evercompromising their values or their integrity.


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