Whether you're a first-time manager or a seasoned pro taking on a new team, understanding the different management styles – and when they're effective – is mission-critical.

They say people don't quit jobs, they quit managers – which is exactly why it's so important you're finding the best way to work with each of your direct reports (and note: it's not one-size-fits-all).

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When moving into a new role, your first step should be understanding the different types of management styles, when they're most effective, and how to find the one that works for you. We've laid it all out right here, so you can get back to work and start running a motivated and effective team.

Let's get started!

What Are Management Styles?

Management styles, true to their name, are the way in which a manager chooses to lead and work with their team. This includes, but is not limited to, the way they make decisions regarding their employees, how they discipline or exercise authority, communicate, manage projects, and generally, how they go about their day-to-day operations.

Managing your team involves a lot of different steps from tracking goals, encouraging improvement, and even approving expenses. You'll need to find a way to complete all the tasks in an effective way.

While there are many different management styles, a leader rarely encompasses just one in its entirety. Most leaders possess a few different traits from different styles. The best leaders are able to tailor their management style to best work with each of their reports.

That all said, management styles aren't just limited to people managers. They can refer to the way an individual contributor manages a project or even the way two peers work together to launch a campaign.


1. Democratic

The democratic style of leadership is just like the democratic style of government, with a manager's direct reports having an active role in decision-making.

In this management style, the decision-making process is left up to the entire unit. Because of this, it works well when all of the manager's direct reports have a similar role or are working toward the same goal. However, if you're managing multiple individual contributors with different metrics, it likely won't make sense for your team.

Because of its increased collaboration, the democratic management style can increase team morale, because everybody feels like they have a bit more skin in the game. That said, as in any democracy, coming to a decision will almost definitely be a slower process, and it may get heated along the way.

If you're taking this approach, be sure you value candor and constructive criticism, but can coach your reports on giving and receiving different opinions.

2. Visionary

The visionary leader looks at the big picture – almost exclusively.

Also referred to as the inspirational management style, this manager doesn't much concern themselves with day-to-day operations.

Instead, they trust their employees to handle the logistics while they hone in on things like a company vision and future goals.

These charismatic managers almost always have some big ideas, and it may often be on the direct reports to "manage up" and level their expectations going into new projects.

In general, employees often see these managers as hugely motivational. Their focus on the future can rally employees toward a single goal and increase team morale.

It's important to note, though, that this method is better when managing experienced employees, as they'll often be responsible for taking care of the details.

3. Autocratic

If you've seen the 2006 film The Devil Wears Prada, then you're familiar with an autocratic management style (and the genius of Meryl Streep, but I digress).

In the movie, Streep plays Miranda Priestly, the hyper-successful editor in chief of Runway magazine. While this is an extreme example, this manager takes a "my-way-or-the-highway" approach and is unashamed about publicly embarrassing her reports when their work doesn't meet her (extremely high) standards.

An autocratic manager will often give precise orders, leaving little room for creativity or employee growth. They may live in their project management tool and are likely assigning tasks with clear instructions and deadlines.

While lots of things about this particular management style are debated, you can't argue that it's inefficient. When decisions are made unilaterally, the process is quick and seamless.

That said, the benefit doesn't outweigh the disadvantages. As mentioned, this management style stifles growth and often leads to dissatisfied and uninspired employees.

My recommendation? Tread cautiously, and use only when absolutely necessary.

4. Coaching

This highly renowned management style focuses on fostering employee growth, encouraging development, and providing mentorship.

In this highly collaborative approach, the manager and report should work closely to identify the report's areas of opportunity. From there, the manager should help coach, teach, and provide further opportunities for professional development.

What could possibly be wrong with that?

While the situation may sound ideal, it's best suited for highly skilled managers. For example, if you hired a marketing ops manager but have no experience with the marketing software they use, you should likely try a different management style, or work on coaching them on less technical skills.

Similarly, coaching can (and usually is) a massive time commitment. Both the manager and their reports should be prepared for that.

More than anything, this style – and its ultimate success – rests on the idea that your employee wants to be coached.

If you sense they wouldn't be receptive to this style, you can't force it. Find what works for them, and focus your coaching efforts on the employees who want them.

5. Laissez-Faire

The laissez-faire, or the "let do" management style, is hands-off and, to be successful, requires a highly skilled and independent group of employees.

In this method, managers give their reports almost complete autonomy. Think the exact opposite of micromanagement. Employees are encouraged to make their own decisions, with management acting as a guide, if and when needed. While this may sound like an employee's dream, it's not necessarily a management style that should be used widely as it's better suited for very particular situations.

The benefits here are obvious – employees are empowered to forge their own path and take risks. The manager will have plenty of time to take on their own projects with significantly less time spent running day-to-day operations.

On the other hand, if your employees aren't as motivated as you think they are, this could lead to lower productivity. Similarly, employees may feel like they're without a leader or mentor, leading to feelings of neglect. For obvious reasons, I'd advise against this style if you're already managing remote workers.

This management style may work for managers whose employees are highly skilled in their respective specialties, but even then, be sure you're providing guidance and mentorship as needed.

6. Pacesetting

Pacesetting managers are typically goal-oriented, high performing individuals – and they expect the same from their team. These folks take "lead by example" seriously – they're often the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave. They prioritize deadlines, results, and a high-quality product.

Because of that, this style can be effective in a fast-paced environment, or on occasion when the business needs something turned around quickly and effectively.

That said, most of the quick benefits of the pacesetting manager are overshadowed by the longer-term impact.

These high expectations and extreme demands are the easiest recipe for burnout. Your lower-performing employees will struggle to keep up, and even your highest performers may become overwhelmed with the work.

Let's make one thing clear – nobody is saying you shouldn't have high expectations for your employees, or that you shouldn't push your employees to be the best version of themselves.

What I am saying is that while this management style can be effective, it should be used sparingly, and only when the business truly requires it. Overdo it and you risk losing some of your highest performers.

7. Servant

This management style revolves around the idea of "servant leadership". The manager who embodies this style sees their main priority as serving their employees. They care deeply about the relationships and dynamics of their team and do their best to foster a harmonious environment.

Unfortunately, this often comes at the cost of their employees' work-related tasks and responsibilities.

While these managers mean well, this particular style rests on the idea that if you pour into your employees, they will be motivated to succeed. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case and can lead to low performance and undesirable results.

Similarly, this likely won't serve your most motivated or metrics-driven employees.

While I wouldn't recommend implementing this approach across the board, it definitely has its admirable components. As a manager, paying close attention to your employees' well-being is critical to fostering an inclusive and open environment, and preventing burnout.

How to Pick a Management Style

The most important thing to remember when you're picking a management style is that you don't actually have to pick. In fact, I'd argue that you shouldn't.

While part of your management style will be a result of your existing personality traits, the best leaders are able to adjust based on a couple of different factors:

1. Their Team

Depending on their experience, skillset, seniority level, and personality, your reports will all need different things from you. And here's the kicker. Unless you're really lucky, usually the way you like to manage isn't the way they like to be managed. The best managers are able to adapt to that and find a style (or a mix of styles) that works for both of them.

2. Their Business

You may need to adjust your management style depending on the industry you work in. For example, a tech startup may favor a pacesetting manager (within reason). Alternatively, if you work at an established corporation, they may turn their noses up to the laissez-faire, and you'll need to adjust. If you're a new manager, simply look to your peers and, if they seem successful, try and adapt to their style.

3. Their Experience

The biggest influence on your management style will be your professional experience. If you've been in the game awhile, you probably have a pretty good idea of how you like to be managed, which will affect how you manage your team.

At the end of the day, what matters is that you're a human first; manager second. Leverage the experiences you've had (the good and the not-so-good) to find the style that will work for you and set your team up for success.

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