Management Styles: When to use each Approach for best Results

management styles

While everyone has a proven and prioritized management style, no single style will work for every situation and every employee. Understanding your options and knowing which style to use in which situation will make the difference between getting the same – or worse – results and attaining the best possible outcome in every situation.


This is the boss we all want and the one we all imagine ourselves to be. He or she presents a democratic style with the primary goal of building consensus and building relationships among his or her team members. Employees have ample input opportunities, and their ideas are taken seriously. This works best when you are working with a trusted and experienced staff or when that team has been working well together for some time. For example, when a new CEO replaces a retiring CEO in a company that consistently performs above expectation. Another example is a coach coming into a winning program with a roster full of allstars. However, this style can create a disaster in a crisis or when some employees require closer supervision. Bottom line, opinions are fine if they are informed by expertise and experience. They are worth much less coming from someone who has nothing but an opinion to offer.


The directive style is all about getting immediate obedience. Think about the drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket. Use this style when you don’t have the time or the patience for any questions – no matter how well-intentioned they may be. When you positively need it done RIGHT FREAKING NOW, go directive. Attributes of this style include close control of workers and motivation through threats or immediate discipline. It works best in a crisis or when not following through could have disastrous results. However, if your employees are highly trained, highly skilled, or if they have some extensive learning to do, this style may not be best. Skilled workers will bristle (think Dilbert’s reaction to his pointy-haired boss); and newbies will wilt and stop trying.


While it might be tempting to whitewash “coaching” as the easy middle ground between directive and participative, it is a style with better or worse application scenarios. Coaching works best in a situation set up with the goal of long-term professional development. If you have employees you want to keep around to learn your system and you expect training may take some time, this is the style to consider. Coaching provides opportunity for professional advancement and works best with employees or team members who are committed to your mission and vision, but want to have additional training to be better assets. However, the coaching model can become a disaster if the leader doesn’t have the experience to provide the expected development or when key team members just aren’t progressing.

Again, this is not just a list of styles in which you may fit. These are styles that are better or worse for specific situations. You have to choose. But choose wisely.

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