Management styles have been a hot topic in the business world in recent years—and for good reason. As companies were forced to take a hard look at their work culture after the pandemic and Great Resignation, it became clear just how much influence managers have on employee retention and company success.
Anyone who’s ever held a job can likely understand how manager styles can make or break a job experience. Research shows that 70 percent of employee engagement is determined by managers, and 52 percent of exiting employees say their manager could’ve kept them there.
Management styles are increasingly proving critical to employee retention, profitability, and overall organizational health. Top-down, one-size-fits-all manager styles no longer work. Successful managers are taking a more thoughtful, intentional, and personalized approach to employee management—a big part of which is understanding different management styles.
What is management style?
Management style is the way a person who supervises employees interacts with their team, assigns and organizes work, makes decisions, and sets goals. Manager styles are made up of factors like:
- Who you involve in decision-making and goal-setting
- How you delegate and oversee work
- The frequency and ways in which you interact with your team
- Your demeanor when interacting with employees
- What you share with your team about organizational goals and updates from top management
- Your preference or flexibility in where, how, and when work gets done
Historically, managerial styles have been a way of “being” that feels like the norm and isn’t given much thought or questioned. Your inherent management approach might come from a mix of factors like:
- How you’ve been managed by others
- Your personality traits
- Your values
- Your life experiences
- Your culture
- Your education and training
- Your emotional intelligence
- Your self-confidence
We often operate subconsciously at work—picking up on behaviors from our leaders and managers or incorporating memories from past experiences. Your management type could be something that just happens, but exploring the way you manage people and learning how to better tailor it to your team can be transformative for both you and your staff.
“The beauty of even using the words ‘management style’ is that it takes this way of working that might be much more intrinsic or invisible and turns it into something more intentional and strategic in order to accomplish team goals and help support a larger organization vision,” said Keren Wasserman, organizational development program manager on Lyra Health’s Workforce Transformation team.
Why do management styles matter?
Management style types matter because they impact your organization’s bottom line—with effects that also echo beyond business. Manager styles can have a direct impact on your employees’ well-being. Here’s why it’s important to be aware of your management approach and foster a positive work culture.
Management styles affect workforce mental health
Research shows that 70 percent of the workforce feels that their manager impacts their mental health more than their medical providers or therapist. Those research participants also said that their manager’s impact on them was equal to that of their spouse or partner.
Management styles spill over into employees’ personal lives
Managerial styles can even affect your employees’ family members. One study showed that people managed by a boss with an authoritarian leadership style experience more conflict at home than those with benevolent managers.
Management styles impact profit
In a Harvard Business Review study that assessed the behaviors of 3,000 mid-level managers and how those behaviors affected profitability and company culture, managerial styles were tied to 30 percent of an organization’s profitability. Another study found that different management styles work better in small versus large companies as well as national versus international companies—and that using the right types of management styles in these situations is tied to financial performance.
Management styles influence organizational success
A study on multinational and multicultural teams found a link between company success and an inspirational and emotionally intelligent managing style compared to one that is more passive-avoidant.
The way management treats associates is exactly how the associates will treat the customers.
Founder of Walmart and Sam’s Club
9 types of management styles
There are several types of management styles and varying terms for them, but most fall under the broader categories of democratic, authoritative, or laissez-faire. Leaders with a democratic management style seek input from their team and make decisions based on that feedback. Authoritative managers set processes and goals and make decisions based on their expertise and understanding of their team’s strengths and weaknesses. Laissez-faire managers are more hands-off, letting their team determine when, where, and how work gets done. Let’s drill down further into the different approaches and explore management style examples.
Authoritative management styles
An authoritative leader plays a strong leadership role but doesn’t rule with an iron fist. If you have this type of management style, you’re skilled at motivating your team around a common goal, but you make the final call. You don’t spend a lot of time gathering feedback from employees and instead base decisions on your best judgment and insight into your team’s abilities.
Sometimes people confuse an authoritative management style with an authoritarian or autocratic management style. An authoritarian leader is one who calls all the shots. Their team members aren’t encouraged to offer input into tasks, roles, decisions, or goals. An authoritarian leader may also micromanage staff and impose swift consequences for mistakes.
Your team has clear direction on where you’re going and how to get there, which helps avoid murkiness around expectations. It’s easier to meet deadlines without the added layer of meetings and information-gathering around planning, processes, and decisions.
Some employees may feel disempowered by an authoritative management style because they have less say in their work and may have fewer opportunities to express opinions and ideas. An authoritative management style can squelch innovation and creativity, which is where modernization and better ideas and processes often emerge.
When to use it
An authoritative management style is useful when an organization is undergoing a big shift or upheaval. It can also help when a team is underperforming and needs more oversight and direction.
Persuasive management styles
A persuasive management style is similar to authoritative management, but involves some buy-in from the team. Leaders hold decision-making power, but provide rationale for their decisions. This can happen before or after a decision or change. If you’re a persuasive manager, you’re transparent about the reasoning and logic behind your decisions. Your team trusts you and believes you know what’s best for them and the organization. You communicate confidently, effectively, and honestly, making your team feel like they’re considered in key decisions, even though they aren’t directly involved.
You’re able to move things forward quickly since you don’t need input from others to make decisions. Your team understands the role structure and expects that you’ll be the sole decision-maker. Teams often feel more positive toward their managers than those with authoritative leaders because they’re let in on the reasons why choices were made.
Your team can feel like their opinions and ideas don’t matter. For some people this can reduce their motivation. As a persuasive manager, you may feel burdened as the sole decision-maker and overly responsible for outcomes.
When to use it
Persuasive manager styles can work well with employees who are new to the workforce or field. Using this management style allows them to learn and feel valued while they build the experience to make informed decisions.
Democratic or participative management styles
Leaders with a democratic management style, also known as a participative management style, seek out the input of team members and make final decisions based on that feedback. If this is your manager style, you communicate goals to your team and consider their thoughts and ideas about how to accomplish them. You may have frequent meetings, check-ins, and brainstorming sessions, and you give your staff space for creativity and problem-solving. Team members are involved throughout processes and projects—from early discussions to final decisions.
This collaborative management approach can feel empowering for employees. It shows your team that you value their contributions and opinions. It can also create a more cohesive team that executes projects smoothly because everyone is involved in the entire process.
A democratic approach takes more time than some of the other types of manager styles because you’re gathering input through meetings and consolidating that information to make a decision. This might slow the workflow and cause backlogs.
When to use it
A democratic management style is a good approach when you’re looking to improve and evolve work processes. It can also increase employee engagement.
Consultative management styles
Similar to a democratic management style, consultative managers seek feedback and input on decisions, processes, and goals. They take on a mentor role and use a collaborative approach. As a consultative manager, you may influence staff, but view the decision-making process as one where each team member’s contributions are integral to the outcome. This type of manager may have an idea of a desired outcome or final decision but will consider others’ input before landing on it.
Team members feel heard and valued for their ideas and expertise.
Like the democratic approach, consultative management styles often mean longer timelines due to the information-gathering phase.
When to use it
This type of management style is ideal when your team consists of experts in areas where you don’t have hands-on experience. They’ll know the granular details of processes that are integral to timelines and efficiency.
Laissez-faire management styles
A laissez-faire management style, also known as a “delegative management style,” is the most hands-off management type. These types of managers rely on their team’s autonomy and independence. A French term, laissez-faire translates to “leave it alone,” or “let it be.” If you’re a laissez-faire manager, you’re mostly concerned with the final product or outcome, not how it gets done. You’re skilled at delegating tasks and trust your staff’s ability to get the job done. Once work is assigned, you move out of the way and let your team take the reins. You may rarely meet with team members and serve more as a resource if they encounter roadblocks or need insight into a situation. A laissez-faire management style puts the onus on your people to accomplish tasks, meet deadlines, and produce deliverables.
Laissez-faire managerial styles encourage creativity, self-motivation, and growth. This approach can feel empowering to employees, knowing that you have confidence in them to make solid decisions and work how they see fit.
This style of management can lead to confusion about roles, priorities, and processes, especially in newer team members or less experienced employees. Tasks can get lost in the shuffle without a central point of command. Employees who have trouble self-motivating may not produce their best work or let the ball drop on deadlines and assignments without regular accountability check-ins.
When to use it
A laissez-faire management style can work well in start-up situations where innovation and new ideas are needed. A staff that’s ambitious, creative, and highly self-motivated is most likely to thrive with a laissez-faire management style. Team members should be experts in their areas of work in order to succeed without regular oversight and training.
Collaborative management styles
A collaborative management style encourages transparency, openness, and individual and group input. This type of manager style invites participation in decision-making across team members and departments. A collaborative manager is more of a guide than an authority figure. Team members work together to plan work, set goals, create, make decisions, and execute. With a collaborative management style, the leader role may transfer from person to person depending on the situation and what skills are needed at the time.
A collaborative workplace can break down silos. Employees are able to see the big picture and how different parts of the organization fit together to accomplish a common goal. There’s a clear understanding of roles.
Communication and decision-making can be challenging with so many cooks in the kitchen. Structure, timelines, and expectations may suffer while teams work to reach consensus.
When to use it
A collaborative management style can help in organizations or projects that feel siloed. Understanding others’ roles and processes and having open communication can help unite different players to achieve goals.
Transformational management styles
A transformational leader is dedicated to positive change and growth in employees and the organization. They’re skilled at inspiring others toward a shared vision. If you’re this type of manager, you’re likely persuasive and confident. You have the ability to push employees beyond their comfort zones to nurture professional growth and aptitude.
A transformational management style can instill a sense of purpose in employees. They may feel like their leader sees their potential and is invested in them. As a result, team members often feel highly motivated and loyal toward their manager and organization.
Because transformational management focuses on professional and organizational development, long-term goals can be hard to pin down. Employees may feel empowered in their roles but lack direction.
When to use it
A transformational management style can help bolster your team’s motivation and morale during uncertain or stressful times in an organization.
An employee's motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager.
Author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees
Visionary management styles
Leaders with a visionary management style draw heavily on emotional intelligence and instill trust in their team. If you’re a visionary leader, you’re skilled at painting a picture of the desired outcome and gaining buy-in. The main difference between visionary and transformational management is that a visionary leader is more focused on long-term goals. A transformational leader is more short-term focused, trusting their team members to reach their full potential to get results.
Employees often feel inspired and motivated by this type of leadership. The idea of moving toward a specific vision makes work feel purposeful.
Because visionary management is more big-picture and long-term focused, details of how to get from point A to point B may fall by the wayside. This can cause frustration for people who prefer more tangible guidance in their work. Visionary approaches may come with high standards for meeting a goal without the direction and resources needed to achieve it, which can lead to poor work-life balance and burnout.
When to use it
Visionary managerial styles can be helpful when an organization doesn’t have obvious long-term goals and there’s a sense of aimlessness among employees.
Coaching management styles
If you lean toward a coaching management style, you’re likely highly attuned to your team members’ strengths, weaknesses, and potential. Managers who use this approach objectively view an employee and hone in on what will inspire and empower them to do their job better. Just like a sports coach, a manager with this type of management style is motivating and goal-oriented.
This type of manager style promotes camaraderie in the workplace. A coaching management style fosters the idea that, “We’re all in this together—if you don’t succeed, I don’t succeed.” This can produce highly motivated and top-performing employees.
A coaching management style is often time-consuming. Its success is also heavily dependent upon the type of team you have. If your employees don’t relate to this form of leadership, a coaching management style can create conflict and roadblocks to productivity.
When to use it
Coaching management styles tend to work well with younger or less experienced employees who are motivated to learn new skills. This management style is also best for smaller teams where you have more time to invest.
How to know which management style to use
Skillfully moving between different management styles is almost like an artform. It takes practice and experience to do this well. The best management style to use depends on the individual team member(s) and situation. For example, there’s a time and place for a more authoritative leadership style. This approach is helpful when you need a clear vision and understand the big goals. You have clarity that will help your team succeed. On the other hand, a democratic or consultative management style may be more appropriate when you need people’s buy-in and feedback in problem-solving and decision-making.
Management styles can be viewed as a toolbox for leaders that they can draw on to apply to different types of situations. They allow you to be strategic given the particular circumstances.
Organizational development program manager on Lyra Health’s Workforce Transformation team
There are several questions you can ask yourself to help decide which of these styles of management is right for you.
How senior are the players?
Management styles that are more mentoring and dominating like coaching or authoritative may seem condescending to seasoned staff. On the other hand, these types of management styles can work well with junior or entry-level staff who need more training and hands-on learning.
What’s the team’s skill level?
A highly skilled team may thrive with more hands-off management styles like laissez-faire or visionary. You can communicate the big picture and desired outcome and let them run with it. Conversely, new employees or junior-level employees may need more training, motivation, and oversight. They may respond better to a coaching management style.
What’s the situation?
Consider the situation you’re in when deciding which management style is appropriate. For instance, a democratic or consultative management style works well for brainstorming sessions. Authoritative managing styles may be ideal for situations like communicating new roles after a reorganization.
What’s the scope and timeline?
Longer timelines offer more chances to engage and have a creative process, while short timelines benefit from a more direct approach. Time-intensive management styles like collaborative, consultative, and democratic that require you to gather feedback from several people or provide mentoring and training may not be right if you have tight deadlines. These situations usually call for more structured manager styles like an authoritative one.
What’s your relationship with your team?
What management style you use can vary depending on factors like how long you’ve been working with an individual or team. For example, if you’re new to a team, you may choose to establish authority, trust, and confidence by coming out of the gate with an authoritative, transformational, or visionary management style. After you’re more familiar with the team you can move into less authoritative management styles if appropriate. If you’re managing a project that involves peers rather than direct reports, democratic or consultative managing styles may work best.
What’s the company culture?
In some organizations it may be important for your management style to align with the company culture and top leadership. For example, if a company is well-known for valuing input and buy-in from all employees to build camaraderie and fuel innovation, an authoritative management style may not go over well. In this case, a consultative or democratic management style may be a better choice.
How is company morale?
Management styles can be a critical consideration in times of low employee morale, such as after layoffs, high turnover, or poor company performance. More inspirational and motivating types of management styles like visionary or transformational ones can bolster morale and get employees invested again.
What are your strengths and preferences?
At the end of the day, if a management style doesn’t align with your comfort level, personality, experience, and strengths, it probably won’t be effective. The best management style for you is one that feels comfortable and authentic. Your team will sense it and respond better.
Signs your management style isn’t working
Though a team’s performance isn’t completely dependent on management style, it’s an important part of the equation. If you’re seeing things like decreased productivity, high turnover, or low engagement, it’s worth re-evaluating your management style.
Reflect on these questions to determine if you should make changes to your managing style:
- Are you seeing the performance you want from your team?
- Is your team meeting its goals?
- Does your staff seem energized and engaged?
- Are you seeing increased absences or turnover?
- How is productivity on your team now relative to other times?
- Are team members communicating challenges to you and asking for guidance?
Tips to improve your people management skills
Management skills can be learned. Educating yourself on different ways of operating within an organization can help your team as well as your professional development. According to Lyra Health’s State of Workforce Mental Health report, there’s lots of room for growth and development among managers:
of non-managers said their supervisor would benefit from a workforce mental health training program.
of non-managers disagreed with the statement, “My manager or supervisor helps me to prioritize my mental health.”
of managers said they didn’t have dedicated resources and training to support mental health for their teams.
of managers said they didn’t have the resources and training they need to ensure that the work experience supports employee mental health.
How to improve your management style
Explore your style. Wasserman recommends asking yourself some reflection questions as the first step in improving your people management skills:
- How has your management style been informed by past or current managers?
- Do you tend to adapt the best practices that you’ve seen from people around you?
- Have you considered why certain practices haven’t worked and how to use that learning to do things differently?
- What is one new action you want to take to build your desired management style?
Assess your needs. After exploring your own management style, assess your needs and your team’s needs:
- What do you need from your team? What’s the end goal and how much flexibility do you have with timelines? For instance, a collaborative management style takes more time to execute than an authoritative management style.
- What behaviors does your team respond to most effectively? Do they work better when they have flexibility to choose how and when tasks are performed, or does productivity suffer when you give more space to make these decisions? Do you have self-directed and self-motivated team members?
- Ask your team about your management style. What’s working for them and what isn’t? This could be in one-on-one meetings or you could ask them to submit their thoughts anonymously, which may yield more honest feedback.
Identify the best management style. With these insights about yourself and your team, take a deep dive into the different management styles. There are several books on the subject as well as training courses and webinars that can help you learn the best management style for your demeanor, position, goals, and team.
As you discover new people management skills, put learning into practice by trying them out with your team. You can ask your team for more feedback after you’ve been at it for a while. “Think of management styles as being very eclectic,” said Wasserman. “You can apply multiple different management styles in multiple situations as appropriate.”
One of the most important things to remember is that it doesn’t matter what management style you use if you’re struggling with your own burnout, low motivation, or anxiety. You must take care of yourself. Managers can struggle with mental health challenges as it can be easy to take on too much or put the weight of your team’s well-being on your shoulders. Making sure you’re practicing good self-care helps you show up better for yourself and your team.
Learn ways to support managers’ mental health so they can lead effectively.
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Training that supports effective management styles
Anyone can benefit from manager training, from the most seasoned managers to those transitioning from individual contributors into people-manager roles.
Lyra’s suite of workforce transformation offerings can support people who have gotten very good at their jobs and are now adding a people factor into it. We offer learning courses that support managers and different types of management styles. For instance, we have an e-learning course on how to build psychological safety on a team. We also have an excellent course on mitigating the risk of burnout and managing it when it happens.
Build a culture of wellness by developing great managers
Management styles matter. The new generation of talent values a healthy, supportive work environment and understands its impact on mental health and well-being. A positive and productive work culture and supervisors with strong people management skills have become a must-have, not a nice-to-have.
“The old-school management style focused on work itself. We’re seeing leadership trends move toward a more people-focused, intentional approach that considers how to maximize the potential of team members,” said Wasserman.
You can’t create a healthy, thriving organization without people who understand how to balance business needs with the intricacies of managing a diverse workforce. Learn what management styles will help ensure a successful future for your employees and business.