It may be that there are as many management styles as there are ideas for running a business. Everyone has got one of their own. Unique as they may seem, it is possible to see a pattern within the styles and discern certain types of management based on their most distinguishable features. Although management techniques are usually organization-specific, ultimately, they all come down to how the message is communicated. Depending on the goals and team structure, the manager can adopt a suitable approach, which only proves that management style is a flexible tool and should be adjusted to the circumstances. At the end of the day, the way you manage your team is the main driver for your joint success.  

What is a management style?

This article will discuss three primary types of management styles and their derived sub-types. The most general and commonly used styles include autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire approaches. The proposed typology is pretty generic, but it provides a clear framework for expanding further, more specific types of management. But before we get down to each of them, let’s start from the bottom. What exactly is a management style, and how to define it? We can assume that management is based on certain business techniques and company principles strengthened by the manager’s will to accomplish objectives. It consists of proper planning, resource management, and decision-making. The actual way it is done is called management style. How managers exercise their authority varies depending on factors like management level and type of organization, but also their dominant character features. Yes, managers are also people, as we all are. Now, being aware of the theoretical background, let’s get down to business!

The three core types of management styles

No matter how many business guides or case studies you go through, in the end, all methods of management come down to the three major styles: autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. We will examine them one by one to define their features and application. As was previously emphasized, management is an adjustable discipline; thus, it is worth knowing your options and matching the management approach to the given environment and circumstances.  

Autocratic management style

Probably the most familiar one, as it does not require great skills nor knowledge of effective communication. According to this approach, the manager is the main decision-maker disregarding any kind of advice or consultancy. The decisions are based on the manager’s personal judgment and beliefs, while the knowledge and expertise of the team members are pushed into the background. This management style proves to be working in hierarchical organizations, where the decisions are made on a higher level and communicated top-down to the employees with no place for discussion. It is also the most controlling way of managing, where, like in the Panopticon, every subordinate is micromanaged by consistent supervision. Needless to say, autocratic management does not motivate employees; it does not encourage their development either. Being a downward spiral for ambitious professionals, this type of leadership is appreciated by the non-autonomous staff members who need clearly defined tasks and find supervision the only motivating factor. Autocratic management, dreadful and demotivating for most who have experienced it, works remarkably well in times of crisis and change when decisions must be made quickly and firmly. However, considering all pros and cons, it is best to use this style as rarely as possible. 

At some point, a more informed autocratic manager might want to turn the tables a bit and start acting as a respectful authority. But when the authoritative management style is performed with a solid set of skills, it can turn out really effective. While an autocratic leader demands and expects compliance, the authoritative manager will encourage the team to act towards the common goal thanks to a position of confidence and emotional intelligence. So, business authorities provide direction and vision to their team members instead of forcing their way.[1]   

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Another management approach rooted in the autocratic modus operandi is the persuasive or patronizing style. It largely overlaps with the autocratic style but involves the team to a greater extent. A persuasive manager is still in control of every business decision; however, more inviting toward the subordinates’ questions. A leader using this style can be seen as a father figure, patronizing but still able to convince the employees the decisions made are in the team’s best interest. Despite the manipulative character of this style, a persuasive manager is able to establish a certain level of trust, as all decisions taken serve the common good. The method proves effective when managing large teams of low-skilled employees who appreciate being taken care of.  

The exploitative management style is the last and least compelling style we decided to mention when discussing the methods derived from the autocratic way of thinking. This kind of leadership preys on the team’s work for the benefit of the manager’s self-interest. It usually takes the form of exploitation based on egoistic motivation, manipulation, or taking credit for coworkers’ efforts. It is hard to imagine an example where this management approach could work and bring positive results.

Democratic management style

Being a considerate and involving leader who not only bonds with the team but also arouses respect requires a higher set of skills and a well-oriented mindset. The democratic style of managing characterizes executives who actively involve their subordinates and seek their input when making decisions. The participative nature of the democratic style encourages the exchange of ideas and strengthens communication between the management and the team. Being a part of the decision-making process is a true team-building experience that visibly enhances the employees’ work engagement. While the team’s feedback is valued and taken into consideration, at the end of the day, the full accountability for the decisions lies with the manager. Apart from the obvious benefits the democratic style brings to the table, it is not free from some drawbacks. This method requires time to work its way, as decision-making turns into a process and involves more than one viewpoint. 

The consultative or else participative style is one of the democratic management variations. Keeping the authority, the leader involves the employees in making decisions. This way, the manager builds up their confidence and mutual trust. This approach makes people feel their input is valued, which greatly impacts their work motivation. Managers who are open to feedback and opinions of their experienced subordinates are more likely to make informed strategic decisions. The consultative way of managing might feel as distress to those team members who would rather not get involved in decision-making at all.  

Going further into the more advanced levels of management, we come across the model of transformational leadership. According to this management style, the main aim of the process is to inspire development and final independence in decision-making. In this case, the leader plays the role of a tutor helping the team grow while giving them autonomy over assigned tasks and final authority to make their own informed decisions. Transformational leadership strengthens the sense of identity and belonging to a project, which translates into a strong sense of ownership for the task. As this style requires developed skills on either side, it is reserved for more experienced managers and above mid-level employees.

Laissez-faire management style

Managing in a laissez-faire style means as much as letting people do as they choose. It might sound shocking to those used to the traditional working culture with the manager as a central figure. However, this approach proves to bring far-reaching effects when applied to a team of highly skilled specialists oriented on the objectives. Working within the laissez-faire framework requires great trust and little management. No micromanagement involved, and barely any instructions or interference from the leader. This way of working is likely to succeed when working with highly skilled professionals driven by intrinsic motivation, with no need for supervision to achieve objectives. Most suitable for creative professions where the given autonomy works in favor of innovation. The laissez-faire attitude is also applicable, to some extent, to the SCRUM methodology, where tasks get self-assigned.     

The delegative style is a more extreme variant of the laissez-faire way, where management literally takes the hand-off approach and gives full autonomy to the self-managed team. The “bossless” delegative style of management entrusts the employees with full responsibility for how they deliver the tasks; however, the manager is still accountable for meeting the final objectives of the project. This way of operating works best in organizations with a flat management structure with a high level of trust. As for each of the previously mentioned styles, this also has to deal with some drawbacks. In the case of the delegative style of management, the leader might face productivity issues or a loss of direction in the progress of the work. Therefore, despite the free-hand outlook that can bring amazing effects creative-wise, it’s worth including some touchpoints in the process. 

The ultimate style of management

Having covered the theoretical background of managing, choosing the most suitable method should come more naturally and with greater accountability. Apart from considering the variables like company type, the level of management, and the business environment, it is also important to adjust the style to the current situation. Your team might require a different management style depending on the project phase, the workload, or possible issues they can come across. It takes years of practice and project experience for a manager to fully shape their style determined both by character traits and external factors, such as the company culture or people you work with. You can tell a good manager by how they exercise authority and how it reflects employee motivation. All things considered, being a good leader is much more than pushing your team toward task completion. If you play your cards well as a manager, you will end up with engaged coworkers and objectives delivered.