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      6 Management styles: Advantages, disadvantages and how to choose

      February 15, 2021 - 15 min read

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      Autocratic leadership style

      Visionary leadership style

      Consultative leadership style

      Participative leadership style

      Pacesetting management style

      Coaching leadership style

      Choosing a leadership style

      Good leaders are generally defined as someone with a clear vision of how goals are to be achieved to the benefit of their people and company. They choose to listen to peers and subordinates alike to facilitate better decision-making. They are always available when the team needs them and they are a great inspiration to garner the team forward.

      The way a leader leads and manages a team can be briefly described as a management style. The style they adopt will have a profound impact on the people they work with and the outcome of their short and long-term objectives.

      During my 25 years working in corporate environments, I have worked with many leaders that have employed many different management styles. Some are caring and always around to provide you with the necessary resources and support to get things done. Some leaders live in their world, pushing and driving their team to the wall to get results. Some leaders are highly directive as it is either their way or “highway.” Some leaders are just too empathetic and nice, which may at times compromise performance.

      All these different management styles may deliver the same outcome, but their impact on its people and culture can be significantly different. 

      In Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager report, one out of two professionals surveyed said they had quit a job at some point in their career to “get away” from their boss.

      Poor management has major negative implications for the organization. It can result in poor productivity, increased employee stress, losing your best talent, and causing negative attitudes in the workplace.

      On the other hand, adopting the right management styles will impact a company positively in multiple ways. It will reduce turnover, empowering employees to be more productive, and strengthen overall company morale. 

      When leaders lead by example, it can create trust and a positive working environment that enables employees to perform at their best capacity.

      In this article, we will briefly describe the six common management styles that most leaders practice.

      Autocratic leadership style

      An autocratic leadership style resembles the traditional military command-and-control approach. It is top-down management.

      The autocratic leader believes he is smart, has authority, and always knows the best way of getting things done. No matter the question, the autocratic leader has the answer. The tagline for this style is, “just do as I say." 

      Autocratic leaders rely on specific rules, policies, and procedures to govern all processes within the workplace. They make all the decisions with little input from team members.

      A good example would be Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea. You have to follow his instruction to the letter and will be severely punished if you fail to meet his expectations.

      Advantages

      • When dealing with a crisis and crucial decisions need to be made on the spot
      • No time to wait when working with an inexperienced or new team
      • It can improve productivity as people need to follow a proven set of procedures and systems

      Disadvantages

      • Inhibits team member creativity as input is not needed or wanted
      • Team members develop a system of dependency instead of deciding things on their own
      • Team member morale is low as their work is routine and uninteresting 

      Visionary leadership style

      Visionary leaders are driven and inspired by what a company can become. They bring cohesiveness to inspire all team members to be on the same page. They are often charismatic and are well-suited for leading a company into new industries, markets, or categories. They are good at helping the company move toward a new direction or facilitate the creation of an innovative environment for people to flourish in. Their tagline is, “come with me.”

      A good example would be Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors. He has revolutionized entire industries with his focus on challenging the status quo.

      Advantages

      • Encourages team members to think creatively and proactively, producing ideas that others had not seen before
      • Forward-looking and future-focused mindset, building trust and commitment to foster innovative thinking
      • Inspires people who want to move forward

      Disadvantages

      • Vision is linked to the leader rather than the company itself
      • Heavy focus on the long-term vision may sometimes impact short term goals 
      • Fixation on the leader’s vision may cause the team to lose sight of creative and innovative ideas from others

      Consultative leadership style

      Consultative leaders assume their team is capable and has the knowledge needed to excel at their jobs. 

      While the leader has the authority to make the final decision, they prefer to listen to the viewpoints of every member of their team before acting. They ask their people for thoughts, views, and opinions, allowing them to feel involved. However, the leader will ultimately make the final decision.  Communication flows in both directions, but the way things are done is tightly controlled by management. 

      An example of the consultative management style is Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates. Ray Dalio values independent thinking and encourages every employee in the company, no matter how new or junior, to put forward new ideas and suggestions.

      Advantages

      • Team members are more engaged as they are consulted and feel respected
      • Quality of decisions can be better as it involves input from many team members 
      • Different creative ideas may be generated during the consultative process as people’s feel safe to voice their opinions

      Disadvantages

      • Time-consuming as it involves many rounds of meetings. This is less effective for urgent tasks
      • Manages conflicting opinions and results in some people being unhappy with final decisions
      • Slow in decision making as it is sometimes difficult to arrive at a consensus

      Participative leadership style

      Participative leaders normally involve their entire team. They encourage the team to participate in decision-making, consulting, and will involve them in the formulation of plans and policies. 

      This is sometimes called democratic leadership, as it decentralizes authority. 

      When conducting meetings, a leader acts more like a facilitator and lets employees open up and do the talking. The leader works closely with team members, focusing on building relationships and rapport.

      An example is Richard Branson, the CEO of the Virgin group. He has a highly interactive style of leadership where his employees are motivated and empowered to reach the goals of the organization.

      Advantages

      • Improves motivation and morale
      • Performance improves due to greater ownership for all team members
      • Better staff engagement with reduced grievances and employee turnover 

      Disadvantages

      • Can be indecisive, with it taking too long to reach a decision
      • Social pressure to conform with groupthink
      • Inefficient and low productivity

      Pacesetting management style

      The pacesetting leader sets high or hard-to-reach standards to drive their team to achieve new goals. This leader sets the bar high for themselves and others on the team alike. 

      They will provide instructions and set up the pace, then expect employees to follow in their footsteps. They don't trust others to do as good a job, and they will take over when things don't move as quickly.

      Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric (GE), is a good example of a pacesetter. If a company or division at GE was not first or second in the industry, he would sell or close it down. He wanted to keep building winning teams. He stretched his team and removed the bottom 10% of each business units’ employees every year.

      Advantages

      • Things get done better and faster.
      • Stretched business goals can be achieved in the short term
      • Issues will be resolved quickly without wasting time

      Disadvantages

      • Can hurt a business in the long run as employees get burnt out and cannot keep pace
      • Less room for creativity and innovation as the deadline is tight
      • Poor engagement due to a lack of trust when an employee is threatened with removal when underperforming

      Coaching leadership style

      The situational leadership model was developed by management gurus Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey. They believe leaders must be adaptable and move from one leadership style to another when there is a changing need.

      Situational leadership revolves around the four basic management styles i.e. Directing, Coaching, Delegation, and Supporting. A leader can employ any of these based on the circumstance and situation they are facing.

      Coaching leadership focuses on improving employees and helping them to become better individuals and professionals. The coaching leadership style helps employees develop and grow personally in the long term. A coaching leader supports and challenges team members with the intent of helping them achieve their developmental goals. They encourage people to try something new on their own.

      Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, is a great example of a coaching leader. He solicited thoughts from employees he spoke to. He listened empathetically to what they had to say. He asked non-directive questions and played a supporting role to help his people grow.

      Advantages

      • Creates a positive work environment where people are highly motivated and eager to learn 
      • Helps the team increase awareness and leverage their strengths while overcoming shortcomings
      • Employees know exactly what's expected of them, and they understand the overall strategy of the company.

      Disadvantages

      • Requires time and patience for employee development
      • Team members receiving the coaching must be motivated to develop and willing to receive feedback
      • Coaching will not solve universal problems or create quick fixes
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      Choosing a leadership style

      There's no right or wrong leadership style. An experienced leader knows how to choose the leadership style that's best suited for a specific employee or a particular situation.

      Having the awareness of different leadership styles while knowing your preferred traits and style can help you identify which leadership style works best for you in a particular situation. 

      Building your unique style with the flexibility to switch into other styles when situations change may help enhance your overall leadership effectiveness. A great leader has multiple styles and tools to draw from to meet the needs of the moment so it is worthwhile to invest energy in continually deepening and developing your leadership skills, regardless of what style you prefer. 

      Some of the questions you might ask yourself when deciding which management styles to use can be found in the table below.

      Questions to reflect Potential Management Styles
      What is the best way to help this person to develop? Coaching
      What is the transformation needed to bring the organization to a new level? Visionary
      How much time do I have before making the crucial decision? Autocratic
      What are the best possible options to deal with the issues? Participative
      What technical capabilities needed to develop this new product? Consultative
      What do we need to do to achieve a breakthrough result? Pacesetter 

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      Published February 15, 2021

      Sam Chia

      BetterUp Fellow Coach, PCC, MBA, FCCA, FCA

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