12 Leadership Theories and Styles for Managers
Modern leadership theories tell us that great leaders aren’t born, they’re b...
Leadership skills, like most abilities in life, must be earned through practice and hard work. However, there are many different ways to be a good leader. In fact, great leaders often incorporate different types of management styles at different times.
In this post, we’ll share the most common types of management styles for effective leadership so that you can take your management skills — and your business — to the next level.
Put simply, there is no one method of leadership that is always superior to all other types of management styles.
The best types of management styles are flexible, adaptive, and appropriate for the given circumstances. This is true because different situations call for different kinds of leadership.
When deciding how to lead, you’ll need to take a number of things into consideration. Here are a few of the factors that will influence which management style you’ll need to employ:
Once you’ve taken all of these factors into account, you’re ready for action!
Learning your primary management style — or knowing which styles work in which situations — has a significant impact on the way you and your team operate.
Here are four ways that identifying your management style can set you on the road to success.
Management fads come and go, and very few are effective long term. But when you find a management style that works for you, you create a foundation to which you can return when the going gets tough.
As you’ll see in the next section, certain situations — emergencies, critical deadlines, organizational strategy — require a more direct management policy. When you settle on your day-to-day management style, you’ll know better how to adapt to issues that fall outside the “norm.”
If your employees are engaged in their work, they’ll perform better in the short term and be less likely to leave your business in the long term.
The right management style for the job promotes this type of employee engagement and makes your team members feel more comfortable approaching you with questions, suggestions, and ideas.
Each management style comes with its own set of skills. When you learn which management style fits your personality, your team, and your business, you can focus on exercising your strengths and improving your weaknesses.
Working in a way that is contrary to your own beliefs, skills, values, and habits can be exhausting.
Not to say that you can’t do it for short stretches when the need arises, but doing it for prolonged periods can lead to mental fatigue, physical fatigue, emotional fatigue, and eventual burnout.
Learning the management styles that work best for you will allow you to be true to yourself on a more consistent basis.
This allows you to:
Being true to yourself through the management styles you use every day can also make you more trustworthy — because coworkers see you living in alignment with your values — and make it easier for you to trust others.
That inherent trustworthiness in combination with the other results of being true to yourself will make you better at your job and benefit your team and your business as a whole.
Before we enumerate the various management styles for effective leadership, it’s helpful to get familiar with the four broad categories into which they each fall.
These categories go by many different names, but we’ve chosen the most descriptive to help you identify the one that’s right for you.
Armed with this information, you can find the management style that best fits your personality and the way you and your team work.
An autocratic management style is characterized by strong, centralized control with a single source of authority. Communication flows from the top down (only one way) and team members are expected to follow orders.
An autocratic manager typically motivates employees externally through rewards and penalties.
Because of the command-and-follow nature of this management style, an autocratic approach is valuable in times of crisis or when time constraints demand rapid action.
The drawbacks of managing your team autocratically include:
Certain situations demand that you employ the autocratic management style, but, for the most part, it’s best to keep it to a minimum so as not to alienate your team.
A persuasive management style, like the autocratic style, is characterized by strong, centralized control that makes decisions for the business.
But, unlike autocratic managers, persuasive managers take the time to invite questions rather than levying “do this or else” policy mandates. Similarly, once management and ownership come to a conclusion, they will discuss with the team members the basis for the decision-making process.
Employees are then encouraged to commit to tasks through various persuasive techniques rather than through rewards and penalties.
In a consultative management style, policy and decision making still rests with managers and owners, but those higher-ups encourage a two-way form of communication.
Consultative managers will often hold discussions with team members to hear their opinions and input prior to finalizing a decision.
A consultative style of business management is an effective way to involve employees in the large-scale activities of your company. But it’s not without its drawbacks.
In some situations, a consultative management style can:
It’s vital to use this management style sparingly so as not to hinder the progress of your business.
In a participative management style, owners spread the authority and power throughout the organization by presenting problems and issues for discussion and then working with employees to reach a final decision.
This type of style promotes employee empowerment because it gets team members actively involved in the direction of the project or the business as a whole. It also encourages each team member to find their own self-direction and to be intrinsically motivated rather than externally motivated.
Participative styles are frequently adopted by professional organizations where the intellectual abilities and skills of its employees are similar to each other.
Taken to the extreme, a participative management style can lead to a laissez-faire attitude where management abdicates responsibility for the direction of the business.
A participative style also allows for more business drift — when the organization doesn’t have an overall direction — because management isn’t making useful decisions to keep the company on course.
Democratic leaders are eager to involve their staff in company decisions. If you choose this management style, you’re showing your team that you trust them and respect their input. It also displays a confidence in both your employees’ opinions and your own ability as a leader.
There’s no need to fire off commands or rule with an iron fist. You believe that employees can largely govern themselves and you’re simply a judge or referee to keep things moving in the right direction.
To be an inspirational leader is no easy task, but it is extremely effective when accomplished. The inspirational type of management style requires superb people skills, a big heart, and an honest desire to help your employees develop both in and outside of the workplace.
While there is much to be said in favor of a democratic leadership style, sometimes a situation calls for a dictator. Maybe you’re a new manager and the workplace seems a bit chaotic, lacking in order and structure. Or perhaps your employees tend to slack off and are in need of disciplinary action.
In either of these cases, you might need to adopt a more authoritative type of management style. But having an authoritative style of leadership doesn’t mean you need to be rude — remember that you can give orders with a smile and a “please.”
The magic word for results-based managers is efficiency. You’re not concerned with how things get done, as long as they get done well and in the quickest way possible.
You don’t feel the need to create every rule and method yourself — if an employee comes up with a superior way of doing things, you’re happy to make changes to company policy. The only thing that matters with this type of management style is results.
The Laissez-Faire type of management style requires two things: an extremely laid-back attitude and a great deal of confidence in your staff. If you possess these two traits, you might be well-suited for a laissez-faire style of leadership.
This method is effective because laissez-faire managers don’t busy themselves with micromanaging employees. Also, employees appreciate the autonomy they’ve been given and will often show more initiative than if they were being told exactly what to do and how to do it.
The collaborative approach to leadership is similar to the democratic style but differs in one significant way.
With a collaborative management style, you’re not simply asking your employees to participate in a yay-or-nay vote — you’re actively soliciting feedback from team members about company policies.
You’re looking to have real, thoughtful conversations about improving your business, which empowers your staff and may even provide some innovative solutions.
This management style is exactly what it sounds like: You lead by consistently setting an impeccable example of the kind of work standards you expect at your business. The bar is set by your actions and your actions alone.
In some cases, this may even transform the ethics of and working environment of your business. Example-setting leaders are definitely not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty to show the crew how things should be done.
Strategic managers aren’t interested in the minute details of basic tasks. Instead, they’re focused on the bigger picture and long-term success of the business they manage.
If you have a strategic management style, you’re comfortable allowing assistant managers and shift leaders to oversee the majority of everyday responsibilities. While the crew gets the mundane work done, you’re planning marketing campaigns and preparing for expansion.
The affiliative manager is humble, hard-working, and confident. These types of managers make themselves a part of the team and lead from the front, rather than constantly reminding employees that they’re the one in charge.
If this is your preferred leadership style, you’re looking for opportunities to affiliate yourself with your staff and lend a helping hand wherever it’s needed. Employees see you as an ally and will respect the fact that you’re trying to help them succeed.
The charismatic management style — sometimes called the persuasive management style — is built around the personality and charm of the manager.
If this is your type of management style, you’re focused on developing personal relationships with your staff and building a team in your workplace. Employees are cooperative because they respect the fact that you’re interested in getting to know them as individuals.
In the paternalistic management style, a manager acts with the best interests of their team in mind but leaves no room for collaboration or questions.
In this regard, the paternalistic style is very much autocratic because communication flows from the top down (one way only), and employees are expected to follow orders without question.
This type of do-as-I-say mentality is often easier for employees to handle than in some of the other autocratic styles. Team members know that those who make the decisions are coming at it from a position of expertise and caring.
They also know that those in charge are focused on team (and individual employee) welfare and will make decisions accordingly. Because of that benevolent atmosphere, employees are more willing to take a back seat if it will benefit them and the business.
That said, over time, employees can become too dependent on a paternalistic management style which can lead to a lack of innovation and problem-solving.
The paternalistic style can also foster resentment in team members who do not work well under an autocratic system. They’ll tend to find the leadership method condescending, infantilizing, and patronizing.
Among management styles, the transformational method is the most focused on growth and agility.
Transformational managers take the time to encourage each employee to step outside their comfort zone, strive for greater accomplishments, and constantly raise the bar for performance.
In addition to pushing their team to go the extra mile in everything they do, managers who practice the transformational style work with their employees to get the job done.
Because of that, the transformational method falls squarely in the participative category of the four major management styles on this list.
With the input and contribution from management, the results of this method typically include:
That’s not to say that the transformational management style isn’t without its drawbacks. If overused, this method of management can put a strain on your team — because they’re always striving for “better” — and lead to exhaustion and burnout.
The delegative management style is a less extreme form of the laissez-faire style.
Managers still assign tasks and then step back to let the team work (delegating authority), but, instead of coming back when the job is done, delegative managers get involved by reviewing the work in progress and making suggestions to improve the project.
Delegative management styles foster creativity — especially in businesses with highly skilled, experienced employees whom management can trust to do things right the first time.
In addition, this leadership method strengthens problem solving and teamwork and can lead to higher job satisfaction for those employees who thrive when given autonomy to make their own decisions.
On the opposite side of the coin, because the delegative style skews towards the laissez-faire’s extreme “hands-off” attitude, employees can experience a lack of direction and focus that can lead to lower overall productivity.
Similarly, when management delegates and then steps away, two negative effects may result:
If you do practice the delegative management style in your business, you can avoid these less-than-desirable developments by checking in with your employees to see how things are going and if there’s anything you can do to help them solve a problem.
If you see yourself as a coach and your employees as members of a team, the coaching management style may be your go-to leadership option.
Just like the coach of a sports team, the manager’s job revolves around developing team skills and guiding team members towards greatness.
Because that’s the focus, coaching style adherents promote learning, upskilling, and growth in the workplace and value long-term development over short-term failure.
In some cases, even extreme failures can be overlooked if they contribute to the overall development of the employee or the team.
The coaching leadership method falls into the persuasive category for several reasons:
As with other management styles on this list, the coaching style has its own set of pros and cons, including:
Done right, though — and mixed with other management styles on this list — the coaching method can be a very successful way to guide and nurture your team.
Ultimately, any manager worth their salt will use a combination of these types of management styles. Leaders who know how to lead are flexible and quick to adapt to their environment.
The first step in improving your leadership is to identify which style you gravitate toward. Keep in mind that you may rely on several different styles as the need dictates. But, on closer examination, you’ll find a default style or two that you use in your normal managerial duties.
Once you’ve identified the management styles that dominate your work, you can take steps to make them stronger, better, and more well-rounded.
Here are six ways to do that.
If you’ve reached this step in your quest to improve your management style, you’re already plenty self-aware — it took a healthy dose of that quality to identify which leadership style you rely on most. Now’s not the time to let up.
Continue to examine your feelings, motivations, strengths, and weaknesses as they apply to leading your team.
Doing so will help you respond better to both the daily grind of your job and the unforeseen challenges that may pop up. It will also help you identify where you need to improve and how you can perfect your chosen management style.
To cultivate self-awareness, try one or more of the following suggestions:
You can think of your values in a number of different ways. They can be:
However you choose to define it, examining your values comes down to the question, “What do you find important?”
After asking that question of yourself in regard to your management style, expand your view to include the rest of your life as well. The core values that you adhere to in your personal life should manifest in your professional life.
If they don’t, there’s a disconnect somewhere that you need to address in order to improve the way you manage your team.
We all want to believe that we’re expert communicators. But when you turn your eye of self-awareness on the subject, what do you see?
Even if you feel that you don’t need to work on your communication to improve your management style, try changing your methods for a week, two weeks, or a month to see if you and your team can accomplish more.
For example, if you’ve been holding a Monday afternoon meeting every week to discuss existing projects, try meeting with each team member one-on-one throughout the week instead. Or reduce the number of emails you send to improve communication and increase efficiency.
However you choose to tweak your communication, record the results (in a journal, for example) to see what works, what doesn’t work, and why.
Another effective way you can improve your management style is by asking for input from those above and below you in the chain of command.
While the feedback you receive from your manager is valuable in many ways, focus your efforts on the input from those you manage.
Most often, they are the ones “on the front lines,” as it were, and will have unique ideas about how you can improve your management style. They can help you find more effective and efficient ways to lead the team as a whole.
Asking your team for input will help them feel like a cohesive unit. And when they see you incorporating their suggestions, they’ll be inspired to improve themselves.
One of the best 6) Analyze team needs
ways to improve your management style is to seek out learning opportunities in the form of on-going education. Furthering your education will give you new insight into the myriad nuances of your preferred management style and the pros and cons of other styles.
It will also expose you to other aspects of the business and management world that you may have been missing out on because you were so busy doing your job.
Whether you decide to pursue certificate work or go all-in toward a master’s degree, seeking out new learning opportunities will put you in contact with new people — teachers and students alike — who can expose you to new techniques, help you solidify your values, and improve the way you manage your team.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, there is no one method of leadership that is always superior to all other types of management styles.
One may be better for you and your team for day-to-day activities while another is better for you and your team in an emergency. The only way you’re going to know that fact is by analyzing team needs and adapting accordingly.
Practice making decisions — both large and small — and then stick to the choice you’ve made. If the result isn’t what you expected, analyze the process and learn from the mistake so you can make a better decision next time.
One of the foundational factors of all the management styles on this list is trust. If your team trusts you, they’ll experience less stress, have more energy, exhibit higher productivity, and experience more engagement.
Strive to build trust between you and your employees by always following through with the decisions you make and the things you say you’ll do.
Unless your employees are already experts and have been working with you and each other for a long time, it’s essential that you check in with your team from time to time.
How often that is depends on the dynamic and culture of your business.
When you make it a point to check in once a week or once a day (or more), your team will know that you’re interested in them and what they’re doing.
Finding a mentor is a great way to improve your management style because it helps you gain skills, experience, wisdom, and knowledge that you might not be able to achieve by reading books or through self-analysis.
Before you ask someone to mentor you, try to forge a friendship outside of work so you both have more motivation to participate.
If you want to free up more time to improve your leadership skills, use Sling to create the perfect work schedule for your team. Formatting, producing, distributing, and editing the employee work schedule doesn’t leave a lot of time to develop your management style.
Not to mention the time it takes to keep track of employees clocking in and out, labor expenses, payroll, and overtime.
Sling simplifies and streamlines all of these processes so you can work on yourself. Not only is Sling an extremely powerful work schedule creator, but it’s also a mobile time clock, labor cost analyzer, intra-business messaging system, newsfeed manager, and employee task list all rolled into one easy-to-use package.
The Sling app is free, easy to use, and will help you spend your time more efficiently so you can concentrate on honing your personal management style.
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This content is for informational purposes and is not intended as legal, tax, HR, or any other professional advice. Please contact an attorney or other professional for specific advice.