Management Styles - What to Know to Apply Them Effectively

What HR, L&D and Managers Should Know About Management Styles

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics¹, there are nearly 8 million people who work in management jobs nationwide. And no two of those millions of managers perform their duties in quite the same way. 

Managers are the people in organizations—public, private, non-profit, or governmental entities—who take on the responsibility of overseeing whole companies, departments or business units, work teams, and/or individual employees.  

Because managers work directly with the employees and business units that actually accomplish an organization’s work, they are especially critical to business success. 

It is a well-known adage that people don’t leave companies, they leave bad managers. Amid the current talent migration known as The Great Resignation, researchers² report that more than six in 10 employees (63%) who rate their managers poorly are considering leaving their jobs within the coming year. 

Underscoring the implications of that turnover statistic, quotes³ the CEO of business services firm Gallup on the critical importance of selecting the right people for management positions: 

"The single biggest decision you make in your job–bigger than all the rest–is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits–nothing. 

What Are Management Styles?

Given the importance of managers to the success of organizations and work teams, their skills and capabilities as leaders are of great interest. Many organizations and business experts have written about management styles. Some use catchy terminology, others opt for adjectives that try to characterize specific behaviors.  

For example, one online business resource⁴ lists seven (alliterative) styles: problem solving, pitchfork (controlling), pontificating, presumptuous, perfect (very capable), passive, and proactive. Another⁵ opts for autocratic, authoritative, pacesetting, democratic, coaching, affiliative, and laissez-faire. 

Regardless of verbiage, management styles simply describe how managers perform their work. That can affect how they interact with employees, how they plan and execute their work duties, how they make decisions, and other aspects of their jobs.  

Management styles may be influenced by many factors, Some examples: 

  • Personal attributes of the manager (e.g., personality, education, work experience)
  • Observation of leaders for whom managers have worked or the styles of colleagues
  • Characteristics or norms of the industry in which a manager works
  • Organizational culture and company mission/objectives and policies
  • Type, volume, and pace of work to be performed
  • Quality, content, and timing of training that organizations provide to managers
  • Personal attributes and needs of employees or teams managed 

Finding the Right Fit(s)

With so many potential influences, it’s easy to see why multiple management styles have evolved. In fact, the most capable managers don’t limit themselves to any one style all the time. Rather, they may choose to alternate styles or apply a blend of styles to handle the rapidly changing contexts and demands of today’s workdays and workplaces.  

Although style descriptions vary, managers should recognize and understand when to leverage the most common ones to provide effective leadership: 

  • Authoritative (command-and-control, pitchfork) – Authoritative managers tend to decide on their own what is to be done and instruct employees accordingly. They rarely seek employee input or feedback and often rely on set policies and to govern workers’ performance.

The authoritative style can be effective in critical situations when rapid decision-making and clear understanding of procedures are important. However, a command-and-control approach discourages innovation and, if mishandled, may damage employee engagement and lead to increased turnover. 


  • Democratic (participative, consultative) – Democratic managers solicit employees’ ideas and opinions and encourage a teamwork approach to problem-solving and decision-making. 

The democratic management style can be effective when employees are skilled, knowledgeable, and capable of contributing constructively to improve outcomes. Seeking employee input communicates value for workers and supports greater engagement and participation. However, democratic management is less effective when situations demand rapid decision-making and fast, efficient job performance. 


  • Coaching (proactive, collaborative) – Managers who apply the coaching style lead by teaching and use situations that demand problem-solving and decision-making as opportunities to support, guide, and develop their employees. Coaching managers emphasize skill-building and continuous learning for their teams to help employees achieve their potential and grow professionally. 

A coaching manager proactively invests in employees, supporting an atmosphere of open communication and respect for individuals. The style contributes to greater employee engagement, innovation, and productivity. However, managers who invest significant time in developing workers may sacrifice efficiency or let other duties slide. In some cases, the coaching style can lead to unintended team conflict if employees feel they must compete for special opportunities. 


  • Laissez-faire (passive, delegative) – Laissez-faire, or hands-off, managers largely leave employees to their own devices when it comes to solving problems or making decisions. Such managers still assign work to employees, but then step back, empowering workers to determine how they will accomplish tasks. 

While the laissez-faire style of management can encourage capable employees to use creativity and innovate as they take charge of situations and their own development, too little supervision can cause productivity and work quality to decline. Further, employees who need greater support or structure may suffer or fail under a manager who provides insufficient attention. 

Helping Managers Develop Their Styles

Even this brief overview of management styles reveals the potential complexity involved for managers who are early in their careers and may be struggling to develop the approaches that best serve themselves and their teams. 

A healthy development of effective management styles (and understanding of when to use them) begins with a manager’s own self-awareness – of skills, personality, emotional maturity, attributes, and needs. 

Awareness of one’s organization, employees, work expectations, and other situational/environmental factors is important, too.

The understanding and effective application of Management styles should be part of every organization’s manager development strategies and content. Best results are achieved when this type of training begins before individuals advance into people-leader positions. 

Media Partners expert guidance and award-winning management training content can help your organization provide engaging and effective manager development strategies and programming. Our courses are designed for in-person or remote delivery, and typically provide modularized learning options ideal for busy managers’ schedules. 

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