Growing up, a few of my baseball coaches were some of the most ruthless and demanding people I’ve ever met. They used fear to push my team to our physical and emotional limits, intimidated us with cruel ultimatums, and didn’t really seem to care about us as people. They did everything they could to win -- and punished us when we didn’t.
When I started doing internships in college, I expected my managers to be just like my coaches. Since businesses actually have to make money, and not just win a few games, I was scared to mess up.
But at the end of my last internship, I realized I’ve never really felt afraid to fail in the working world because my managers were the complete opposite of my coaches. They were patient, understanding, and, most of all, nice. It seemed like they cared about me just as much as they cared about their job, even though there’s a lot more at stake in the office than on a high school baseball field.
Although my managers have treated me well, there are still managers out there who are just like some of my baseball coaches: fear-mongering, intimidating, and mean. These tactics might produce short-term results, but, in the long-term, all they lead to are unhappy employees, underwhelming results, and a high-turnover rate.
You don’t want to be a jerk at work, especially if you’re a manager, so check out this overview of the best management styles to adopt -- and the worst ones to avoid.
4 Management Styles to Strive For
A visionary manager communicates a purpose and direction that her employees believe in, which convinces her team to work hard to execute her vision.
After setting their team’s vision and overarching strategy, visionary managers usually let their employees get to work on their own terms, as long as they’re productive. Managers will only check in on their team to make sure they’re on the right track or to share new insights.
This gives their employees a great sense of autonomy, which all managers need to provide -- self-direction is a basic psychological need. When humans work on tasks that they have more control over, they feel more satisfied and motivated to complete them. Letting their employees' inner motives determine the direction of their work is the best way for managers to boost their team's engagement in the office.
Visionary managers are also known to be firm yet fair. Their vision is usually set in place, but they’re always open to listening to their employees’ ideas and willing to change their plan if a great idea is presented.
To better execute their vision, visionary managers give a lot of feedback to their employees about their performance and praise them when their performance meets or exceeds expectations.
This type of management style is hard to pull off, though. It’s crucial that you sell your employees on the purpose of your vision before you expect them to execute it. If you don’t, they won’t be inspired to turn your vision into a reality.
In democratic management, majority rules. Managers let their employees participate in the decision-making process because they value their team’s diversity of ideas, and understand that people are the key to a team’s success.
Democratic managers ultimately approve of all decisions, but since their employees are so involved in the decision-making process, their team has a lot of influence in their manager’s decision.
Employees are so heavily involved in the decision-making process because managers know it makes their team feel valued, boosts their morale, and forges a healthy, trusting relationship between the two. It also makes it easier for managers to convince their employees to buy into a team’s vision -- after all, they’re executing a plan that they’ve created together.
But when executed poorly, a democratic management style can be inefficient. Managers who keep mulling over a decision even after consulting their whole team about it can slow down progress. And if you want your employees to feel like they’re all leaders of your team, you need to make sure they’re helping you make progress. Or else they might start thinking you're just making empty promises.
Transformational managers’ are innovators. They usually believe change and growth is the only way to stay ahead of the curve, so they push their employees past their comfort zone, making them realize they’re more capable than they originally thought. This motivates employees to keep raising the bar, leading to improved team performance.
These teams are innovative, so they can adapt to drastic industry changes. But they can also risk moving too fast and spreading themselves thin. Constantly challenging the status-quo is crucial for innovation and staying ahead of the curve, but, as a manager of people, it’s important to know how far you can push each of your employees before they start burning out.
Just like a sports coach, a coaching manager strives to improve their employees’ long-term professional development. They have a passion for teaching and watching their employees grow. And they’re more willing to deal with their employees’ short-term failures, as long they learn and get better because of them.
Coaching managers motivate their employees with professional development opportunities, like a promotion or more responsibility -- these rewards make employees hungry for knowledge, and their steady development improves the team’s performance.
By constantly teaching their employees new things and offering career opportunities, coaches can build strong bonds with their employees. But doing this could also create a cutthroat environment that’s toxic for their team's relations.
As a coach, your have two main focuses: overseeing your employees’ individual development and bringing your team together. The best teams are the most united teams, and an employee experiences the most professional growth when both their coach and teammates invest in their development.
4 Management Styles to Avoid
Autocratic management is the most top-down approach to management -- employees at the top of the hierarchy hold all the power, making decisions without collaborating or informing their subordinates. And after they tell them what to do, they expect immediate acceptance and execution, with no questions asked.
If one of their employees doesn’t follow orders, they’lll punish them by chewing them out or threatening their job. They’ll even publically humiliate them in front of their peers, if they really want to make a statement to their team. Fear, guilt, and shame are an autocratic manager’s main weapon of motivation.
Autocratic managers are also the ultimate micromanagers -- they police their employees every move to make sure they’re obedient, allowing little to no flexibility at work. Employees do what they’re told, and managers don’t want to hear their feedback. They see their conduct as a means to end for great financial success.
But teams and companies led by autocratic managers usually don’t reach great financial success because they can’t innovate. The same, few minds call the shots, leading to groupthink and a stagnant ideation process -- if they won’t let their employees, who have much different perspectives than them, share their new and possibly breakthrough ideas, then they’ll only leverage the same strategies that they’ve always been comfortable with.
The autocratic management style allows managers to make decisions extremely fast, but employees hate working under it. It’s also one of the most ineffective management styles: underdeveloped employees feel overwhelmed -- they won’t get any help -- and the most skilled employees can’t let their talents shine in such a rigid environment. Everyone’s professional growth is stunted.
Another problem with autocratic managers is that they don’t even try to convince their employees to buy in to their vision. They just force them to do it. But what they don’t understand is that even though coercion might work in the short-term, it won’t last in the long-term. No one likes to be controlled. And if people don’t know why they’re supporting the company’s vision, morale will plummet, leading to low-quality work and a high turnover rate.
The only time this management style is effective is when the organization experiences a crisis situation and needs to make important decisions -- fast.
Servant managers put people first and tasks second. They prioritize their employees’ well-being over their team’s results, so they can foster a harmonious relationship with their employees and keep them as happy as possible. They do everything they can to support and encourage their team, and, in return, they expect their employees to be motivated to work hard.
But since servant managers don’t prioritize performance and avoid confronting their employees, even when they do a lackluster job, there’s no pressure to succeed. This can make employees complacent, leading to average or even sub-par work.
Servant managers also might spend too much time on team bonding rather than work, which could frustrate employees who are goal-oriented. They’ll feel like they can’t perform to their full potential because they have to spend a bunch of time doing trust falls.
Laissez-faire managers monitor their team’s activities, but they’re completely hands-off -- they expect their team to perform up to a certain level even though they don’t proactively help or check in with their employees.
Employees led by laissez-faire managers hold all the decision-making authority, working on whatever they want with minimal to no intervention -- which is a nice perk. They can also seek their manager’s guidance when they need help.
Transactional managers use incentives and rewards -- like bonuses and stock options -- to motivate their employees to carry out their commands. Their motto is “If you do this for me, I’ll do this for you.”
After a while, rewarding intrinsically-motivated employees with external incentives triggers a self-perception loop -- employees will base their attitudes about their motivation at work off their behavior at work -- making them think they were motivated to succeed because their manager rewarded them with some stock options and not because they had a passion for the team’s mission.
Management is one of the hardest jobs in the working world. There’s a reason why we’ve all had at least one terrible boss. But, hopefully, this blog post helped you identify the management traits you should keep and the ones you should adopt.
Originally published Jul 30, 2018 6:00:00 AM, updated March 31 2020