6 effective management styles to become a stronger leader

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In 2005, journalist Marcus Buckingham wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review in which he set about finding out what great managers do. He wanted to understand what sets the great boss apart from the average boss. 

After two years of in-depth research on tens of thousands of managers worldwide he finally found the one quality great managers have that others don’t:

“They discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it.” 

While all are important factors, great management is more than being liked or being a mentor or a teacher. It’s about understanding the value of each team member and leading them in a way that inspires them to perform at their highest level of ability. And for this to happen, you need to adopt the right style of management for both yourself and your team. 

In this post, we’re going to help you identify which type of management works best for you by looking closely at six different styles. We’ll cover what each style is and how it works, and outline the pros and cons so you can see which one, or several, fits best with you, your employees and your company. 

Table of contents

  1. Why the right management style matters
  2. Directive management
  3. Authoritative management
  4. Affiliative management
  5. Participative management
  6. Pacesetting management
  7. Coaching management
  8. There is no one-size-fits-all management style
  9. Wrapping up

Why the right management style matters

According to Gallup, managers are responsible for at least 70% of the variance in their employees’ engagement. And employees whose managers regularly communicate with them are nearly three-times more engaged than those with managers who don’t regularly communicate. 

Teams with highly engaged employees are 21% more productive and the companies that employ them grow profits 3x faster than companies whose employees are only engaged at an average level. 

This isn’t to say that managers who don’t regularly communicate are bad, it’s more likely that their style isn’t right for the culture. In a four-year study by Leadership IQ on why managers are replaced, all of the top five answers – mismanaging change, ignoring customers, tolerating low performers, denying reality and too much talk, not enough action – are results of what happens when the management style isn’t right.

With the right management style, teams thrive and companies succeed. With the wrong management style, even great teams, and managers with great potential, can lose their way.

But what is the ‘right’ management style? 

According to research into the leadership of over 3,000 executives worldwide, carried out by consulting firm Hay-McBer, it’s one of six distinct styles:

  1. Directive
  2. Authoritative
  3. Affiliative
  4. Participative
  5. Pacesetting
  6. Coaching

Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Pro tip: Regardless of what leadership style works best for you, it’s important to cultivate a strong business culture within your team. As a small business, this will help you attract the best talent and reach your goals, as your work environment will breed innovation, motivation, engagement and loyalty. To learn more about fostering a thriving culture in the workplace, read our guide on why business culture matters & how to get it right from the start.

The six management styles and what they mean

1. Directive management

The directive management style is coercive in nature and requires the manager to demand compliance from her employees.

It’s a ‘do as I say, not as I do, my way or the highway’ approach.

Directive management is very much like micromanagement, with the manager closely monitoring the work and performance of employees. Employees are expected to follow orders without question. 

Because of this, it’s a style that doesn’t always sit well with team members. A study published in Harry Chambers’ book My Way or the Highway showed that 69% of employees have considered changing their jobs because of this management style and another 36% did change jobs. 

But this doesn’t mean the style can’t be used to good effect. In times of crisis when the company is struggling or going through a takeover, or when there’s a real emergency such as a natural disaster, forceful leadership is often needed to steady the ship. 

Absolute power also worked to turn Apple into one of the biggest companies in the world. As CEO of the company, Steve Jobs was known for his directive style and enjoyed considerable success with it—notwithstanding alienating employees and ultimately being sacked from his own company.

Pros:

  • Brings structure: Directive managers can use their knowledge and experience to implement duties for inexperienced teams that must be followed to the letter. This can help to produce positive results. 

  • Promotes safety and security: This management style is often used in industries such as the military, construction and manufacturing where there is no margin for error. Employees following the specific rules laid out by a directive manager are less likely to fall foul of regulations.  

  • Creates clarity: Employees working under a directive manager know exactly what their role is and what their expectations are. This clarity ensures everyone is working on the same page and performance can improve as a result.  

Cons:

  • Restricts employee growth: The ideas of employee development and team collaboration likely do not feature in directive management. Instead, workers must focus on completing individual tasks to meet performance targets. 

  • Lower morale: Employees often dislike the feeling of being under a microscope, especially if they are highly qualified. A lack of input, innovation or creativity can result in poor job satisfaction. 

  • Success is dependent on the manager: Directive management relies upon the skills and leadership of the manager. Managers take full responsibility for the success of the team. Without delegation, workload and stress levels may increase. What’s more, if a team does not have a manager present to direct, performance can suffer as results lie squarely at the foot of the person in charge. 

Best for: Times of crisis when strong management is needed.

Best avoided when: Employees are new and in need of training. Or if employees are experienced and capable of working alone. 

2. Authoritative management

The authoritative management style shouldn’t be confused with authoritarian, which is another way of saying ‘directive’. In fact, rather than micromanaging, authoritative leadership is about marshalling a team towards your vision.

Authoritative managers are visionaries and motivators – they have a clear vision for the company, a direction they want to go in and the ability to convince employees to work towards achieving the company’s goals.

While this management style does call for a strong leader who commands respect, that respect materialises from admiration. If done correctly, employees will look up to you as a leader for what you’ve done and want to do in your industry, and in return they are given autonomy – the ability to make decisions, contribute ideas and operate with limited supervision. 

And this leads to happier workers. According to a study by the University of Birmingham, the more autonomy an employee is given, the higher their sense of job satisfaction and well-being. 

Making authoritative management work requires the ability to do three things well:

  • Effectively communicate your company’s narrative: Where the company is going, what it stands for and what challenges you’ve overcome and will face in the future.
  • Understand how each employee contributes to the larger goal: For example, if earnings are up for the company as a whole, what milestones did an individual hit to make that happen?
  • Deliver frequent praise and feedback: Use your authority to help employees grow and understand their role in achieving the overall vision.

Pro tip: Delivering effective feedback is a skill in itself. It’s a subset of being an effective communicator in a leadership position, which requires productive listening, engaging body language, preparation, and more. To learn about the ins and outs of engaging with your employees in the most valuable way, read our guide on how to become an effective communicator in business.

Former Ford president and CEO, Alan Mulally – the man credited as managing “one of the most impressive corporate turnarounds in history” – is a great example of someone who’s shown these qualities to great success. When asked by McKinsey to describe his leadership style, he said:

“Positive leadership—conveying the idea that there is always a way forward—is so important, because that is what you are here for—to figure out how to move the organization forward. Critical to doing that is reinforcing the idea that everyone is included. Everyone is part of the team and everyone’s contribution is respected, so everyone should participate. When people feel accountable and included, it is more fun.”

Authoritative managers are always moving the organisation forward towards their vision by getting their team invested.

Pros:

  • Gives employees a sense of freedom: Workers are free to work in a way that best suits them, as long they’re working towards achieving your vision.

  • Gives the company a clear direction: The manager gets to set the concrete goals and ensure that everyone knows what they’re working towards. 

  • Recognises employee contributions: Authoritative managers listen to, encourage and reward their teams. This helps to increase engagement and job satisfaction, which leads to better performance.

Cons: 

  • Demands credibility: To reach the goal, an authoritative manager must be able to convince employees of the vision. This requires respect, trust and admiration. Employees have to believe in you. 

  • May breed complacency: Not every employee works well with autonomy. Without direct management, some workers might become lazy or neglect their duties.

  • Works better with skilled teams: Autonomy requires employees to be comfortable with their duties. Workers without the correct training or experience will require a more hands-on management style.  

Best for: Companies with a clear sense of direction and defined goals

Best avoided when: Staff need focused training and development.

3. Affiliative management

Affiliative management is about creating emotional connections, harmony and positive relationships. 

It’s a ‘people first’ approach that’s based on you being more of a friend than a boss, which effectively breeds a balanced work environment where everybody gets along. And if teams are happy working together, business thrives. A study by the Institute for Corporate Responsibility found that organisations that stimulate collaboration among employees are five times more likely to have a considerable performance edge.

Businesses with effective communication are also 50% more likely to have lower employee turnover. 

Putting the needs of employees first can help to avoid conflicts in the workplace. For example, if your team feels unheard, they may begin to share their negative feelings with other coworkers. These lamentations could quickly spread around the office and diminish motivation and loyalty levels amongst your entire company.

However, it’s worth mentioning that consistently prioritising the needs of the team could also lead to complacency. If your team feels they can do no wrong, they may unintentionally put less effort into their tasks, as they feel they will be rewarded regardless of their efforts. 

Pros

  • Builds trust: The purpose of affiliative management is to build trust. If employees feel close to you and comfortable amongst their colleagues, you will have an easier time cultivating a positive workplace culture. 

  • Unites teams: Affiliative management brings teams closer together, improving harmony and collaboration. And as the old saying goes, ‘teamwork makes the dream work’.

Cons

  • Can lead to complacency: Seeing you as a friend rather than a boss can result in some employees coasting through their workload, simply due to the fact they know they can get away with it.  

  • Not a great standalone management style: While it’s great for creating a positive atmosphere, company goals can be left to slide and results may suffer. Because of this, affiliative management should be used as a short-term measure or alongside another management style. 

Best for: Creating team spirit and resolving conflicts in the workplace.

Best avoided when: The success of the business depends on hitting targets.

4. Participative management

Participative management style involves leading by consensus rather than directing employees. 

The workplace becomes a democracy where you encourage input and welcome ideas and opinions from everyone on your team. It’s a style based on mutual respect. 

And while you ultimately have the final say over decisions, involving employees, to a point, makes them feel valued, which improves trust and makes it easier for you to sell them on your vision. 

Done right, participative management style can lead to great results. Google, for example, built its empire through founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page setting up participative teams that have accounted for a 9% increase in value added per employee

Twitter takes the same approach of involving employees in decisions. In a published email to staff, CEO Jack Dorsey said:

“If you believe in something to be correct, focus on showing your work to prove it. Authority derives naturally from merit, not the other way around. We want more passionate debates about bold and crazy ideas rethinking what we’ve taken for granted rather than discussions that end in ‘John wants this, this is how we’re supposed to do it.”

This style does, though, require you to fully trust in your team to be leaders. If you involve them in decisions and then waiver on actually making them, you can easily lose their confidence. 

Pros

  • Makes employees feel valued: A participative management style ensures employees are listened to, giving them a chance for their decisions to make a difference. 

  • Creates new insights: Hearing everyone’s opinions can introduce ideas you may not have considered, which can lead to new opportunities. 

  • Builds trust: Putting your trust in employees to participate in the decision-making process is repaid when you take their opinions on board and implement them. If individuals can see that their views are making a difference, they’re more likely to put forward innovative and creative ideas. 

  • Eases the burden of decision-making: Having everyone involved in decisions takes away some of the pressure of having to make tough choices yourself. If you’re naturally indecisive, this can be a huge benefit. Of course, the final decision should always come down to you and your executives. You never want to give too much leeway on which direction to move in, as it’s your job to keep the company’s best interest at heart.

Cons

  • Progress can be slow: With participative management, no major decision can be made in the spur of the moment. While this is good for coming to the right decision, it takes away the ability to move fast and trust in your business instincts. 

  • Works best with experienced employees: Results in a participative environment depend greatly on the skills, experience and knowledge of the team. Employees need to fully understand what they’re voting on to make informed decisions. So, this is a style best avoided if employees are untrained or inexperienced.

Best for: Creative industries with strong teams where ideas are needed to solve problems.

Best avoided when: Employees lack training or experience. And in times of crisis where decisions need to be made quickly. 

5. Pacesetting management

The pacesetting management style is all about leading by example. You set the standard for employees to follow.

In his book, Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman breaks down the role of a pacesetter:

“The [pacesetting] leader holds and exemplifies the highest standard of performance. He is obsessive about doing things better and faster and asks the same of everyone. He quickly pinpoints poor performers, demands more from them, and if they don’t rise to the occasion, rescues the situation himself.

“This style can work extremely well, particularly in technical fields, among highly skilled professionals, or with a hard-driving sales team. Pacesetting makes sense, in particular, during the entrepreneurial phase of a company’s life cycle, where growth is all-important. Any time that group members are all highly competent, are motivated and need little direction, the style can yield brilliant results.”

But if you’re adopting this approach, you need to be mindful of the long-term effects. Pushing employees too hard for too long can leave them feeling like you don’t trust them to do the job, which sends morale on a downward spiral.   

Pros

  • Gets quick results: The high-energy, target-driven approach of pacesetting can help a company grow quickly.

  • Creates high achievers: Employees are following in the footsteps of someone who has been there and done it. Your modelling can help create carbon copies of yourself. 

  • Gives clear direction: As the leader, you know what needs to be done and how to do it. Employees simply have to follow your lead. 

Cons

  • Employees can feel overwhelmed: The standards set may prove impossible for some employees to reach, causing them to give up before they’ve started.

  • Potential of burnout: The high-intensity approach can be exhausting for employees who aren’t used to your way of working. 

  • Risk of damaging morale: Replacing employees that aren’t meeting the required standard can kill confidence and job satisfaction. It’s important to pay attention to the different strengths and motivating factors of each member of your team.

  • Risk of micromanaging: If an employee isn’t performing a task in the way you’d like, it’s easy to find yourself looking over their shoulder at every given opportunity.

Best for: Getting the most out of a team of highly motivated experts in short bursts.

Best avoided when: Employees need to be coached and developed.

6. Coaching management

Coaching management style is a hybrid of the directive and affiliative styles that involves you contributing to the long-term development of your employees. 

A coach in the workplace is much like the coach of a sports team or a teacher in the classroom – you’re in charge, you make all of the decisions, but you welcome input from members of the team and you nurture them until they achieve success.

The most important aspect of coaching is having the expertise and experience to help others improve. For example, if you’re teaching people how to sell insurance, you need knowledge of the product and the insurance market, and a strong track record in sales. You also need great interpersonal skills to relate to employees and understand what motivates them.

In fact, the ability to inspire employees and build stronger teams is fast becoming a top desired skill amongst managers. According to a recent Gallup report, 86% of employees find their bosses uninspiring, resulting in a lack of motivation and commitment to their work.

The coaching management style helps to boost engagement and productivity levels, which can ultimately result in increased revenue.

Your ability to help employees develop their strengths and improve weaknesses acts as a motivator and helps to keep morale high. And in a less demanding way than pacesetting, brings people up to your standards.

Pros

  • Develops relationships: Nurturing and mentorship bring you closer to employees and helps to create strong bonds that promote trust and loyalty. 

  • Creates future managers: By teaching employees what you know through helping them develop their skill set, you’re giving them everything they need to progress into management. 

  • Set expectations: Employees know what’s expected of them, what the end goal is and what the overall strategy of the company is. 

Cons

  • Results take time: Coaching is focused on the long-term development of employees. If you need results in a hurry, pacesetting is a more suitable management style.

  • Requires a specific skill set: Unlike other management styles, coaching relies on you having the skills of a teacher and the credibility to impart your knowledge on employees.

Best for: When employees need training and instruction to improve their skills.

Best avoided when: The business is in a crisis or immediate results are needed.

There is no one-size-fits-all management style

Successful management is all about getting the best out of your team. But teams are complex and each employee has unique personalities that require a specific approach. 

Where one employee may be happy working with minimal direction as long as their work is valued, another may need constant supervision and stern leadership to perform. Some may have the experience and confidence to get involved in the decision-making process, while others may need nurturing to reach that level.

Rather than picking one management style and forcing your team to adhere, be flexible. Embrace several styles that you can switch to depending on the project, scenario or individual. 

For example, you may adopt an authoritative style that switches to an affiliative style when two employees are disagreeing. 

To find the right management style(s) for you, ask yourself: 

  • Which styles suit my skill set? For instance, if you’re good at leading people but not teaching people, coaching won’t be for you.

  • Which styles suit my personality? Do you like to be in charge of everything or are you happy to put your trust in others?

  • What does my team need right now? Do you have a team of experts or do some members lack experience?

  • What is the culture of the company? Are you in a period of change? If so, you may need an authoritative style. Does the company need results? Becoming a pacesetter might help. 

The more you know about yourself and your team, the easier it will be to adapt to the style of management the situation calls for.

Wrapping up

There is no right or wrong way to lead your team and no one management style that works across the board. Attracting success is about becoming the leader your company needs right now. 

By understanding the different styles of management and how they relate to where your company finds itself, you can be that leader. And down the line, when the goalposts shift, you can adapt your style to overcome those challenges.

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Photo by fauxels, published on Unsplash

Kerstin Reichert

SEO Manager and small business marketing expert

Tide Team

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