Are your managers using the right approach for each situation?
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Are your managers using the right approach for each situation?

Managers often think of themselves as a certain “type” – stern taskmaster, hands-on boss, empathic mother hen.

The most effective managers, however, recognize that one style isn’t enough.

Organizational dynamics expert Valerie Grubb has identified six valid, but very different, managerial styles. Some of them work in certain situations but not in others. The managers who are most likely to get promoted, Grubb argues, are those who learn to shift gears fluidly from one style to another as needed.

So what are the six styles and when should your line managers use them? Also, what can happen if people use the wrong style for the situation?

1. Command-and-control
Old-fashioned do-what-I-say management gets a bad rap these days, but there are times when managers may want to emulate a general in battle. Consider this situation: The electricity has just gone out and employees are unsure what to do. In command-and-control, the manager gives clear, precise orders, and then demands action. This style can also work well when dealing with brand-new employees, teaching new skills, or trying to manage a high-risk situation.

Downside: Overuse the style and you could spend way too much time making decisions others could handle. Also, it can demotivate people.

2. Relational
This style is based on building rapport with employees and helping them build rapport among themselves. It means encouraging teamwork and getting to know the staff personally. The relational approach is effective, for example, where there’s a new manager in a team or department, or if subordinates aren’t working well as a team.

Caution: The relational style isn’t the best way to address individual performance issues. Nor does it give managers leverage for tough decisions, like firing someone who is well liked but isn’t delivering the goods.

3. Democratic
The manager in democratic mode seeks input from all, taps employees’ special knowledge, and creates consensus about what’s to be done. Best uses of this style include creating a plan and broadening employee buy-in for an existing plan. Example: A manager is heading a task force to revise the travel and entertainment policy. She uses the democratic management style to gather ideas for her plan.

Caveat: The democratic style may backfire if the plan is already decided upon. Nor is it useful if a plan gets off track. And it’s time-consuming.

4. Goal setting
The goal-setting style, according to Grubb, is the most widely applicable managerial approach. The manager articulates goals, then empowers employees to find ways to reach them. Goal setting works with highly motivated employees, to promote continuous learning, or to win buy-in.

But: Goal setting may not work where there are lots of junior employees. Also, people may come up with means of reaching the goal that are unacceptable, which requires diplomacy on the part of the leader.

5. Hands-on
This style resembles command-and-control. A manager might use it when a subordinate has been given responsibility and fallen down. Example: A project deadline is three days away and an employee tasked with a critical piece tells the manager he’s stuck. Assuming the hands-on style, the manager shows her step-by-step what to do.

Risk: If this style is used too often, employees will feel their manager thinks everyone else is incompetent.

6. Coaching
The coaching style can work with subordinates who want to learn and grow, especially junior employees or those who are acquiring new skills. Example: A manager has a three-week deadline on a project that he could finish in a week by himself. Because there’s ample time, he gives the project to a junior employee as a learning experience, and follows her progress closely. The manager puts in suggestions and asks questions from time to time.

Danger: Overuse of coaching can leave employees in a position of dependence on a superior. Sometimes people need to act on their own.

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