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Mary Rose McLean on management styles and how to choose the right one

Woman writing - Mary-Rose McLean

Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”

George S Patton said that. And while he was a military general with different criteria to business leaders, the thrust of his message is the same. He knew that if his leadership was weak then much more than just a project was at risk.

Patton understood that when a team of experts is assembled, all they need are the right tools and the right management, and they’ll take it from there. The same principles apply when it comes to managing a team of people in a business environment.

Which management style is right for you?

There are many management styles, and no single solution that works for everyone. However, by understanding different approaches to leadership and management, it’s possible to find the style that works best with your personality, experience and business acumen.

Your style of management should align closely with who you are as a team leader, your personality and how you want to work. The most important thing to remember is that management is not just about you. It’s about your organisation, who you’re accountable to, what you’re trying to achieve and, crucially, the people you’re managing.

Common management styles

The right kind of management style will mean you engage effectively with your team and with your manager. It means the pieces fall into place and you fulfil your role. The right style will increase productivity, get more from your people, improve morale and commitment, reduce employee turnover and add to the bottom line.

Here are three common management styles, with variations. However, the style that works best for you will be directed to some extent by the corporate culture of your company. External factors will also influence the style of management internally, including any legal constraints and demands from consumers, suppliers and competitors.

  1. Autocratic management

This is the traditional, classic ‘top-down’ style of management. The manager makes the decisions and communication only goes one way. Other people’s views are generally not considered and all roles and tasks within a project or team are dictated by the manager only. This leadership style naturally includes close supervision and monitoring of the project by the manager.

The temptation in today’s world is to dismiss this top-down structure as too hierarchical and old-fashioned. However, it works well for employees who are either unmotivated or low skilled. In short, it depends on your working environment and who is working for you.

An autocratic style of management is also useful in difficult situations. For example, should there be a business crisis, an effective leader could turn on an autocratic style to maintain order and smooth the situation.

Some tasks and environments need a strict management approach. It also works well for some types of employees. It cuts out any uncertainty and gives workers clear expectations. There is certainly a place for strictly defined roles and cutting through confusing communication. However, it’s a style of leadership that should be carefully implemented. Some skilled team members are likely to find it difficult to have no input into their projects or work and could be driven away.

  1. Democratic management

This form of management is where everyone is involved in key decisions, with the final call made by the manager. They will listen to suggestions, invite debate and then decide which is the most viable. Communication is two-way, with team members encouraged but not obliged to participate.

A clear advantage of this style of leadership is that it is open to a wide variety of perspectives and ideas. It utilises the skills of the many, rather than the few. It helps to make the team feel valued and part of the decision-making process, which has a knock-on effect of encouraging more productivity and a motivated workforce.

Are there downsides to this strategy? Well, yes. Just as a democratic Government struggles to get decisions made, and please everyone, so could a democratic manager. There is a potential for little to get done, and for the team to get bogged down in trying to make everyone happy. Conflict can also arise, just as it does in a democratic society, when people have strongly different views and ideas.

To combat this, managers can employ consultative management, which focuses on building confidence and trust between employees and leaders. A collaborative variant of this leadership style means that decisions rest with the majority, which gives people a sense of ownership. However, both of these styles can significantly slow the workflow and managers can find them a time suck.

  1. Laissez-faire management

This is where the managerial input is minimal. It could be that the workers are highly skilled and don’t need supervision. The management is hands off and the leader focuses attention on other aspects of their work.

This is best suited to decentralised businesses with skilled staff who are driving projects, making innovative contributions and setting their own objectives and goals. This style of management encourages increased levels of creativity and innovation but can also mean a potential decrease in productivity if staff need more supervision.

It’s a balancing act that can work very well under the right circumstances. A delegative style of this kind of management gives teams responsibility for their own part of the project. The manager might assign tasks, give little specific direction and allow the team to complete them in their own way. The manager remains responsible, but the team decides how they will reach their objectives.

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