6 management styles: How to choose the right one for you

November 8, 2021 - 20 min read

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What is leadership?

Autocratic management style

Visionary management style

Consultative management style

Participative management style

Pacesetting management style

Coaching leadership style

How to improve your leadership and management skills

How to decide which management style to use

Each leader is unique.

As a result, they all have different management styles that help them lead and manage a team. The style they adopt will have a profound impact on the people they work with and the outcome of their objectives. 

During my 25 years working in corporate environments, I have worked with many leaders. Each of them have employed many different management styles. 

Some are caring and always around to provide you with the resources and support to get things done. Others live in their own world, pushing and driving their teams to the wall to get results. There are directive leaders that have a “my way or the highway” mentality. And there are also leaders who are too empathetic, compromising performance at times.

All these different management styles may deliver the same outcome, but their impact on a company’s people and culture is different.

Let’s explore the six common types of management styles that most leaders practice.

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What is leadership? 

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

A 2021 Gallup report revealed that managers account for 70% of variance in team engagement. Poor leadership has major negative implications for the organization. It can result in poor productivity, increased employee stress, and negative attitudes in the workplace.

On the other hand, adopting the right leadership style will positively impact a company in many ways. It'll reduce turnover, empower employees to be more productive, and strengthen company morale. 

When leaders lead by example, it creates trust and a positive working environment. This enables employees to perform at their highest capacity.

The right leadership style can vary from one organization to the next. No matter what style you choose, a good leader must inspire and support their team and drive their organization forward. 

Let’s explore the different management styles that leaders can adopt and look at how each one can help or hinder your employees’ and company’s success. 

Autocratic management style

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

The autocratic leader is authoritarian, believes they’re smart, and always knows the best way to get 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 strict rules, policies, and procedures to govern the workplace. They make all the decisions with little input from team members.

An extreme 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 instructions to the letter and will be severely punished if you fail to meet his expectations.

Advantages

  • Crucial decisions can be made on the spot when dealing with a crisis 
  • Efficient when working with an inexperienced or new team 
  • Improves productivity as people need to follow a proven set of systems and procedures

Disadvantages

  • Inhibits team creativity as input isn’t 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 management 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’re often charismatic and are well-suited to lead a company into new industries, markets, or categories. 

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They succeed at helping the company move in a new direction or creating an innovative environment for people to flourish in. Their tagline is, “come with me."

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

Advantages

  • Encourages team members to think creatively, producing ideas that others haven’t seen before
  • Creates a forward-looking and future-focused mindset
  • Builds 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 management style

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

While the leader has the authority to make the final decision, they prefer to listen to every team member’s viewpoint before acting. They ask employees for thoughts, views, and opinions, allowing them to feel involved. 

However, the leader will ultimately make the final decision. While communication flows in both directions, management tightly controls the way things are done. 

A real-life example of the consultative management style is Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates. Ray Dalio values independent thinking. He encourages every employee, no matter how junior, to put forward new ideas and suggestions.

Advantages

  • Increases employee engagement as team members are often consulted and feel respected 
  • Improves quality of decisions as it considers input from many team members
  • Different creative ideas may be generated during the decision-making process as people feel safe to voice their opinions

Disadvantages

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

Participative management style

Participative leaders normally involve their entire team. They encourage their employees to take part in decision-making and involve them in formulating plans and policies.

This is sometimes called a democratic management style, as it decentralizes authority. 

When conducting meetings, the leader takes a hands-off approach. They act more like facilitators, letting employees open up and do the talking. They work alongside team members, focusing on building relationships and rapport.

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Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group, perfectly embodies this democratic leadership style. He has a collaborative management approach that empowers his employees to reach the goals of the organization.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Can be indecisive, taking too long to reach a decision 
  • Social pressure to conform with groupthink
  • Can result in inefficiency 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 as well as their peers.

They’ll provide instructions and set the pace, expecting employees to follow in their footsteps. They don't trust others to do their job, and they’ll take over when things don't move as quickly.

A good example of a pacesetter is Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore. He had very high expectations and strived for constant improvement. By heavily investing in education, he created a skilled workforce, capable of living up to his standards. His leadership turned Singapore from an underdeveloped country into one of the wealthiest countries in the world. 

Advantages

  • Things get done more efficiently 
  • 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 experience burnout and cannot keep pace
  • Leaves less room for creativity and innovation as employees work under tight deadlines
  • Threatening an employee with removal for underperforming can result in a lack of trust and poor engagement 

Coaching leadership style

Management gurus Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey developed the situational leadership model. They believe leaders must be adaptable and move from one leadership style to another depending on the situation.

This type of leadership revolves around the four basic management styles. They are directing, coaching, delegating, and supporting. A leader can use any of these styles based on the circumstance and situation they are facing.

Coaching leadership focuses on helping employees become better individuals. The coaching management style helps employees develop both personally and professionally in the long term. 

A coaching leader supports and challenges team members. Their intent is to help them achieve their developmental goals. They encourage people to try something new on their own. 

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

Disadvantages

How to improve your leadership and management skills

There’s always room to grow as a leader. You just have to put in the work. Here are some helpful tips to help you improve your leadership skills and become a great leader for your team and organization. 

1. Do the Inner Work™

To become a better leader, you must start from the inside. Simply put, you must learn to manage yourself before you can start managing others. 

Inner Work™ is the practice of developing self-awareness by looking at our authentic selves and experiences. Some ways to pursue Inner Work™ include meditation, breathwork, or learning how to manage difficult feelings. 

Inner Work™ that is done consistently improves your relationships with your team, boosts your confidence, and improves your decision-making. These are just a few ways looking inward helps improve your leadership skills. 

2. Fine-tune your soft skills 

In the age of artificial intelligence, your unique value as a leader lies in your human skills. 

While technical skills are important to have, soft skills are what develop you into a great leader. The way you adapt to change or how you connect with others are skills that will always be valued in the workplace no matter how much technology changes. 

Nurturing soft skills like creativity, collaboration, or resilience is crucial if you want to grow as a leader. 

3. Focus on inclusivity 

Leaders are role models for their teams. As a leader, you want every employee to feel seen, heard, valued, and respected. To improve your leadership skills, you must develop inclusive behaviors. 

Inclusive leadership and management can mean building connections with your teams, recognizing employees’ growth and success, and showing empathy. When you become a more inclusive leader, your relationship with your peers and employees changes for the better. When employees feel included, they bring their best selves to work. 

traits-of-inclusive-manager-management-styles

4. Find support

Being a leader doesn’t mean you can’t rely on others to give you a helping hand when you need it. 

For example, a coach or mentor can help you improve your leadership skills by providing guidance. A mentor with years of leadership experience can share their expertise and teach you new and valuable skills. A coach, on the other hand, is a highly-trained professional that can help you develop a specific leadership skill you want to improve. 

If you’re new to leadership, another way to develop your skills is by participating in an executive development program. This type of training teaches you effective management skills you’ll need to succeed in your future role. 

How to decide which management style to use 

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

Questions to Ask

Potential Management Styles 

What is the best way to help this person develop?

Coaching

What is the change 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 this issue?

Participative

What technical capabilities are needed to develop this new product?

Consultative

What do we need to do to achieve a breakthrough result?

Pacesetter 

Choosing a management style

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

Being aware of different leadership styles while knowing your preferred one can help you identify what works best for you. Building your unique style with the flexibility to switch enhances your overall leadership effectiveness. 

Successful managers have many styles and tools to draw from to meet the needs of the moment. It’s worthwhile to invest energy in deepening and developing your leadership skills, regardless of what style you prefer. 

Are you interested in developing your management skills? BetterUp offers you the tools and support you need to become the best leader possible for your team and organization. Schedule a personalized demo today.

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Published November 8, 2021

Sam Chia

BetterUp Fellow Coach, PCC, MBA, FCCA, FCA

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