How to choose a management style

Do you have a management style? Have you had a supervisor or mentor whose approach to managing employees is one you’d like to emulate? Here are some tips for finding a voice that will inspire and engage your employees.

As a small business owner, when you first began managing employees, you likely adopted a management style that you picked up from someone else. Or, maybe you read popular business books and decided to use some of the tactics you gleaned from your readings. There are many approaches to leadership, and a good leader can adapt their style to the specific situation.

No matter how you choose to lead your team, you want to employ a management style that feels authentic to you. To find the style that’s right for you ask yourself:

  • Does motivation come from empowerment or direction?
  • What does a healthy team dynamic look like to me?
  • Do I believe in structure or freedom of choice?
  • What do I value more: goals or relationships?
  • Would I rather make decisions on my own or collectively?
  • Do I focus on short- or long-term goals?

These are just a few examples of questions to ask yourself to help you refine your signature management style.

Four types of management styles

Four popular management styles include:

Authoritarian, autocratic, or bureaucratic leadership: In this approach, an individual has total decision-making power and absolute control over subordinates. An authoritarian leader makes decisions with little or no participation or creative input from their team members. In this approach, managers dictate policies and processes and supervise employees directly.

This style can be appropriate for industries and organizations where decisions must be made quickly, tasks must be performed a specific way, and there is scant room for mistakes (think construction, manufacturing, military). It also can be useful in situations where you are the most knowledgeable person in an organization. For example, this approach is best for teams that need to follow a specific process to mitigate risk precisely. It can also be effective when managing workers who miss deadlines, departments experiencing conflict, or teams that need you to make quick decisions.

However, experts caution that being too controlling can negatively impact creativity, ideas gathering, motivation, and trust within the team. An autocratic management style also may make it difficult to see things with a wider, more strategic view.

Democratic, participative leadership: With this style, the manager sets goals, guides team discussions, and makes the final decisions. Because they recognize that employees have valuable insights, democratic leaders actively consult them. As a result, this leads to fresh ideas that they likely wouldn’t have had on their own.

To manage differing opinions, participative leaders work to build a culture that supports healthy debate. They ensure that mutual respect is a priority on the team to inspire participation from everyone. However, this management style can slow down the decision-making process, especially if team members are involved in every decision.

The delegating, “laissez-faire” leader: The French phrase “laissez-faire” loosely translates to “let people do as they choose.” In short, it means letting things run their course without interference. With this style, you empower your team to make decisions and organize its own processes with little or no guidance.

As you may have guessed, this approach can be a slippery slope; situations can devolve into chaos if your employees aren’t motivated or highly skilled. And, as the leader, you will still be held accountable for the outcome. It can be effective for your small business, however, if processes are simple, deadlines are flexible, and workers are driven, creative, experienced, and knowledgeable. To ensure that things move forward appropriately, you’ll need to delegate the right tasks to the right people.

The transformational leader: Consistently productive, long-lasting teams often have transformational leaders. These are supervisors who have high expectations and set a positive example for their employees. Transformational leaders have integrity and high emotional intelligence. They motivate people with a shared vision of the future, and they are skilled communicators. Most are empathetic, authentic, humble, and self-aware.

Transformational leaders inspire their employees because they expect the best from everyone and hold team members accountable for their actions. They motivate without micromanaging. By setting clear goals, this type of leader generates high productivity, engagement, creativity, forward-thinking, and resourcefulness.

While a certain leadership style may be impactful in a specific job, experts say the best style is a blend of several. Knowing which style to use in each situation comes more naturally with time, practice, and emotional intelligence. Remember, most leaders borrow from various styles to achieve various goals at different times in their careers.

Five tips to get started

To develop your own management style to run your small business:

  1. Find a mentor with more experience and ask how they developed their style and what worked for them.
  2. Be authentic by choosing a management style that aligns with your morals, temperament, and strengths.
  3. Try various approaches in different situations, then assess the outcome.
  4. Ask for constructive feedback from people you trust to grow and strengthen your leadership skills.
  5. Be flexible and open to changing your leadership approach over time.

There are many other management styles in addition to the main types explored above. Take this quiz to learn which style you lean toward naturally and other approaches you might find helpful to incorporate.

Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As laws change regularly, you should refer to your state legislation and/or an advisor for specific legal counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workers’ compensation insurance or check your current rate in 3 minutes.