Recently, we posted an infographic about the six different styles of management. At first glance, it may appear that some management styles are simply better than others — and there’s some truth to that. One management style is called “autocratic,” which on its face seems pretty negative, bringing up images of dictators ordering their people around.
However, successful managers have flexibility in style. They can shift from a democratic style to a top-down style as need be. Different situations demand different management styles. Most managers have a default style, but to be effective in multiple situations, you’ll have to be able to make the switch. And no matter which management style you choose to adopt, developing a strong set of all-around management skills is critical to success.
Here’s a closer look at when each management style is the most (and the least) effective:
In this style, the manager tells the employees what to do. If the employees fail to fall in line, they face consequences. Employees are motivated mostly through fear of discipline. The company has specific, clear policies that employees must follow. Management isn’t interested in hearing feedback from employees.
There are some clear downsides to this style. Employees are entirely dependent on management to do their jobs, meaning that new and innovative ideas are unlikely to emerge in this system. There’s also no room for employee buy-in or value of collaboration. A lack of critical feedback means that the company will continue to use management’s worst ideas.
But there are some benefits, especially in specific situations. In the autocratic style, management sets clear expectations for what employees need to do. Each employee has a specific role in the strict hierarchy. Decision-making is also streamlined. This style may be useful in crisis situations when fast, decisive action is necessary. However, in the long term, this top-down management style isn’t going to work and it should be used rarely.
This differs from the autocratic style in that management seeks employee feedback before making decisions. This leads to a better relationship between management and employees, meaning less turnover and greater employee loyalty. Management takes employee concerns about the workplace seriously. This may include an open-door policy, where employees can drop in on managers any time to talk about what’s working and what isn’t.
But this is still a top-down system in that management retains the sole power of decision-making. Employees are consulted, but ultimately have little power in the process. It’s slightly less efficient than the autocratic style as a greater number of people are involved in making decisions. In most nonemergency situations, consulting with employees is the minimum that managers should do.
In this model, managers still retain control of making decisions. However, they make every attempt to help employees see why management’s decisions are the best for the company. This can create employee buy-in when management successfully explains their plans for the company. This is helpful when an independent expert comes in to analyze a company’s operations. Management may need to sell employees on why the expert’s criticisms are valid.
Yet this is still a one-way communication process. That means employees may feel alienated. Rather than listening to employee feedback, management is more concerned with proving that they’re right. Like the autocratic style, leaders should use this one sparingly.
Just like a political democracy, decisions are made by a majority with a real stake for employees. For big, long-term decisions that affect the entire company, this can be the most effective method. It’s particularly well-suited for gaining employee buy-in, meaning that employees will work hard to implement the final decision. This is a collaborative process in which employees and management work together to create a vision. A democratic style includes open forums and effective communication among various levels of the organization.
But once again, just like political democracy, managerial democracy is in some ways less efficient. Decision-making involves consultation of multiple parties and often includes debate. This managerial style is associated with a more flat organizational model, meaning that employee roles may not be as clear. However, many successful managers believe that this style is a good default, as it creates strong bonds with employees, possesses meritocratic values, and allows employees to be independent.
This is when managers cede all control to employees without putting specific structures in place for decision-making. This is sometimes associated with truly flat organizations. This can work in specific situations, like when a team of capable employees is tackling a project. However, role confusion and inefficiency in decision-making are clear downsides.
In this style, the manager is more of a mentor than a leader. Employees make decisions about how to go forward and may seek the manager’s guidance when needed. This can be good in specific situations where employees need space to be creative. Employees are independent of managers, although they may not have much direction. This style has overlap with the so-called “management by walking around,” in which managers monitor what’s happening without becoming too involved.
Each style has its benefits and drawbacks. The old style of top-down management has fallen out of favor — and for good reason. But successful managers possess the ability to match their style to different situations.
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