You’ve had a lot of managers during your career.  Some cared about your future—and some didn’t.  Some were understanding and compassionate, while others bullied their direct reports, demanded total obedience and wouldn’t permit any disagreements with their point of view.

Now, after a long, tough slog, you’ve been promoted and finally have the job of your dreams—you’re a manager.  That’s good news, of course, but you have many questions.  How will you handle it if you need to reprimand one of your employees?  Should you seek their opinions when you have doubts?  Do you want to give orders or listen to your employees to help you arrive at the best solution?

What Are Management Styles?

The management style you choose has to do with what you believe, both about yourself and your workers.  Do you, for example, think of your employees as valuable assets, helping you make prudent decisions about company policies and goals—or, alternately, are they tools, pawns you move around the chess board to ensure you reach your goals?

This is how HRZone (a UK consulting firm that provides guidance and advice to business leaders and human resources professionals) defines management styles:

“Management styles are the principles that underline the methods, abilities and techniques managers use in handling situations and expressing leadership within an organization. Generally speaking, managerial styles are polarized between autocratic and permissive, although each style has its own subtleties.”

How to Choose the Right Management Style for You

Every manager is different, facing different problems and challenges, and only you can decide which management style best suits your personality and company objectives.  In the same vein, it’s important to note that smart, creative managers can reach or exceed expectations in many ways.  In this sense, it’s a bit misleading to refer to management styles as “effective” or “ineffective.”

That said, some management styles are, in general, more effective than others.  Following are 3 management styles that tend to be effective—and 2 that tend to be ineffective:

Generally Effective Management Styles

1.  The Visionary Manager

Remember George H.W. Bush and the “thousand points of light?”  That was an effective speech, and it was visionary.

Visionaries paint of picture of what the future will look like if employees buy in to the vision.  Typically, that vision is compelling but not overly detailed in terms of how to get there.  Visionary managers inspire their workers with such a picture, then give those employees reasonably wide latitude in designing a plan and strategies to achieve it.  They monitor their workers on key projects, this to ensure they’re moving in the right direction and making necessary progress, but also delegate a substantial amount of authority to them.

Employees generally enjoy reporting to visionary managers because they tend to delegate authority and give them autonomy which, of course, helps those workers advance in their own careers.  That in turn motivates them, increasing their level of engagement and productivity.  When asked, employees of visionary managers generally describe them as “firm but fair.”

2.  The Democratic Leader Manager

This management style is just what it sounds like.  Democratic leaders believe that the majority tends to be right and therefore frequently consult their employees and encourage them to take part in decision making.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that democratic managers simply “follow the crowd.”  Though more egalitarian than other types of managers, they do make final decisions.

Democratic managers believe not only that substantial employee input leads to better decision making, but also that it builds trust and boosts both morale and worker engagement.  Said differently, employees tend to work harder when they’ve participated in creating the strategic plan they’re also executing.

Workers tend to like democratic managers more than other types because they feel both valued and trusted.  That doesn’t mean, however, that all democratic managers are successful.  In cases where democratic managers inadvertently emulate Hamlet, endlessly mulling over every decision, productivity and the achievement of key objectives both suffer.

3.  The Transformational Manager

Transformational managers (sometimes called innovative managers) believe that real change only occurs when employees are pushed into new spaces, spaces where they sometimes feel uncomfortable, and urged to solve problems in new ways—and with new ideas.  The idea is to help employees realize they can do more than they thought possible and, in this way, to motivate them to peak performance.

Paradoxically, employees tend to like this management style—even though such managers challenge them more—this because being given such challenges makes them feel more valued.  It can also help them reach their full potential and move faster in their careers.  The biggest risk of the democratic management style is that employees sometimes feel the necessity to move too fast, leading to poor management decisions, costly mistakes and employees burnout.

Generally Ineffective Management Styles

1.  The Autocratic Manager

Like the democratic manager, this one is precisely what it sounds like—the difference being that autocratic managers, although they might be successful for a short time, generally fail in the long run.  Autocratic managers believe that management should be top-down, with those at the top of the hierarchy holding all the power and calling all the shots.  They almost never consult those below them (or anyone else, for that matter) and want obedience, not collaboration.

What’s worse, autocratic managers often believe that the slightest sign of disobedience should be met with sharp rebukes, and in some cases, punishment.  They tend to have little problem hauling disobedient employees out on the carpet in front of their colleagues, humiliating them to secure compliance.  They believe that employees are principally motivated by fear and guilt.

As noted above, this approach can be successful for brief periods of time, but because it leads to a lack of employee engagement and motivation, it typically hurts worker productivity.  When only one person is making decisions and other (sometimes superior) opinions are discounted, innovation also suffers, and businesses fall behind the competition.

2.  The Laissez-Faire Manager

“Laissez-faire” is French for “let do.”  As a management style, that translates into “let employees do what they want to do.”  These managers are strictly hands-off, expecting their employees to do the minimal amount of work expected of them, and rarely encouraging them to strive for greater achievements.

The result for employees led by such managers is weak engagement—employees feel that, because expectations are low, they don’t need to push themselves or test the limits of their potential.  And, because they receive little direction or guidance, employees tend to feel they are being neglected.  Like autocratic and servant managers, laissez-faire managers are generally unsuccessful—and the companies for which they work suffer for their lack of vision and direction.


Managing workers isn’t easy—in fact, it can be among the most challenging things you’ll ever do, especially if this is your first shot at it.  It’s important to take the time to challenge yourself, considering not only what you think and believe about the workplace, but also what the possible ramifications of those thoughts and beliefs might be.  Said differently, carefully consider your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the challenges that face the company for which you work and choose a management style not that’s the easiest for you, but that is most likely to succeed.

To learn more about the ways our leadership development and team-building services can help both you and your company succeed, contact us today.

Download How to Help Managers Develop Leadership Skills. This white paper outlines why and how your company should create a succession plan for future leadership. In developing these essential management skills, you’ll position your organization for more seamless transitions—and for more efficient, productive teams right now.


Transforming Ordinary Managers into Extraordinary Leaders.