As a manager, it’s your responsibility to provide clarity and context so your team members can get their best work done. Great managers are dot connectors, context providers, and clarity creators. But every manager takes a different approach to how they do that.
The approach you take makes up your management style. From the type of team building activities you plan to the conversations you have during 1:1 meetings with team members, your management style guides every interaction you have with your team—even if you don’t realize it.
You may already use a management style and not be aware of it, but identifying your style can help you hone and improve your management skills. Whether you’re a first-time manager or an experienced one, by understanding the different management styles—and identifying your own—you can intentionally tailor your own style to best support and empower your team.
Before we dive into management styles, it’s important first to understand what it means to be a manager, and what qualities you should bring to the table in order to support your team. These include:
Connecting daily tasks to company objectives. One of the most important things you can do for your team is to make sure they have the context they need to succeed. Only 26% of knowledge workers have a very clear understanding of how their individual work relates to company goals. Without that context, team members don’t have a good sense of what they should be prioritizing, and what their highest impact work is.
Assigning and delegating work. Part of being a good manager is delegating work to the right team member. Good managers don’t think, “I can do that,” but instead approach a task or project with the mentality, “I know the best person for the job.” As a manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that team members have enough work that engages and challenges them but that they aren’t feeling overworked or burnt out.
Providing feedback and professional development. Good managers are forward-thinkers who want to help their team members improve and get to the next level—whatever that next level looks like for them. Part of this is providing clear, constructive feedback to help your team members turn their weaknesses into strengths. Additionally, professional development and coaching sessions can help team members identify where they want to go in their careers—and begin moving in that direction.
Encouraging team building and collaboration. The best teams are those that work together—and the best managers are those that help their teams do just that. Good managers make time for team building opportunities. They emphasize the importance of team collaboration and open communication, so that team members feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work.
Management styles describe the distinct approaches that different managers take to support and guide a team at work. All managers have the same responsibilities, but different management styles describe how managers specifically use their managerial toolkit to motivate team members.
There are a huge variety of management styles. Every manager naturally leans towards one management style, even if you don’t realize it. Our management styles come out through our communication preferences, our personality types, and how we show up at work. The key thing is to identify which management style you naturally use. Identifying your go-to management style can help you gain a better understanding of how you’re communicating and supporting your team—even the things you don’t realize you are doing.
To understand the difference between management styles and leadership styles, we first need to understand the difference between leadership and management.
“Management is operational; it’s about setting priorities, evaluating priorities, hiring and firing decisions, compensation decisions, things like that. A leader is more of a coach, or even a spiritual guide. She is responsible for maintaining energy, keeping everyone on the team inspired and helping them grow, and for ensuring everyone is aligned in the same direction. A leader must be a point of strength and stability across changes.” —Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder and CEO, Asana
Management styles are how managers support and guide a team at work. Managers are focused on execution, organization, and planning—so management styles are primarily about how to provide clear direction on projects and support your employees at the team level.
Leadership styles are how leaders motivate and inspire a team or company. Leaders tend to be bigger-picture thinkers—so leadership styles primarily focus on motivating team members, leading company culture, and creative problem-solving.Read: Leadership vs. management: What’s the difference?
There are a wide variety of management styles, and more are being defined every day. Anything that defines how you can guide your team, plan work, and dot connect can be considered a management style. Some of these styles are top-down, while others are more hands-off. Though there are many different management styles, they typically fall into three categories: autocratic management, laissez-faire management, and democratic management.
To walk you through each management style, we’ll provide an example of how a manager with each of those styles might respond to the same situation. For this example, let’s say your company has set their yearly objectives, and now it’s your team’s turn to set quarterly priorities that ladder up to those yearly objectives.
Autocratic managers centralize the decision-making process. On these teams, the manager usually makes the majority of decisions—including what the team should focus on, what short- and long-term goals they should work towards, and which tasks and projects are associated with these initiatives. A manager with an autocratic management style will then delegate work to the team member they think is best suited for the job. This is the most top-down approach to management.
To set quarterly priorities, an autocratic manager will set all of their team’s quarterly priorities, and then share the priorities with the team once they’re finalized.
The advantages of an autocratic management style:
It’s easier to make quick decisions since there is only one decision-maker.
The disadvantages of an autocratic management style:
Autocratic management can quickly veer into micromanagement.
Team members under autocratic managers are less encouraged to offer suggestions since there is only one decision-maker.
Team members can feel creatively stifled.
Laissez-faire managers are the most hands-off managers. Laissez-faire literally translates to “let it go” in French, and this management style leans into that relaxed, hands-off approach. Laissez-faire managers prefer to give team members near full autonomy, and they typically only meet with team members or host team meetings if the team requests it. Otherwise, a laissez-faire manager only checks in if something went wrong.
If the team needs to set quarterly priorities, a manager with a laissez-faire style will let each team member decide which priorities make the most sense for them. Unless team members request it, laissez-faire managers won’t necessarily help them during the goal-creation process or ensure team goals are connected to company objectives.
The advantages of a laissez-faire management style:
Team members are encouraged to be creative and come up with their own ideas.
Self-motivated employees benefit from increased autonomy.
The disadvantages of a laissez-faire management style:
Unless team members are very experienced, they can struggle to prioritize their own work.
A laissez-faire manager doesn’t tend to provide context for work or proactively connect daily work to company objectives.
This management style can result in employees feeling unsupported or lost.
A manager with a laissez-faire management style doesn’t model collaboration best practices or lead by example.
Democratic managers collaborate with their team members to distribute the decision-making process. They invest in their team’s well-being and career development. This management style encourages creativity and engagement across the team. Though they are still the person making the final decision, managers who use a democratic management style encourage contributions from all team members.
Before setting quarterly priorities, a democratic manager will make sure every team member understands the company goals and how their team’s initiatives contribute to the company’s yearly objectives. This type of manager will then encourage team members to suggest their own goals. If necessary, a democratic manager will workshop goals in order to ensure each team member is working towards their most important priorities each quarter.
The advantages of a democratic management style:
Team members have the context they need to succeed.
Teams with democratic managers often come up with more creative ideas because everyone is brainstorming together.
This management style promotes high engagement and buy-in.
Team members are encouraged to tap into their full potential at work.
The disadvantages of a democratic management style:
This collaborative management style takes more time than the others because the manager is more present.
Not all management styles are made equal. Though autocratic and laissez-faire management styles can be useful in select cases, the best management style to use is a form of democratic management.
Democratic managers emphasize collaboration and connection. By demonstrating the importance of open communication and encouraging all team members to participate in the decision-making process, democratic managers can increase employee engagement. That, in turn, increases trust between a manager and their team members.
“For me, a manager is the person who gives you the support and mentorship needed to make an impact in your role. They help you understand the vision for the team, and make that vision a reality.” —Jenny Thai, Head of Content, Asana
Democratic management is a broad style of management—and as a result, there’s no one right way to be a democratic manager. Instead, practice distributing the decision-making process and leaning into collaboration. To get started, try these three tips to flex your democratic management style:
The first step towards better collaboration and communication is co-creation. Co-creation is the process of creating something together—and it’s one of our company values at Asana. Managers who embrace co-creation recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Part of co-creation is open communication. Encourage your team members to share their ideas, even if you don’t decide to move forward with them. During brainstorming sessions, invite conversation and ideation—and don’t shy away from disagreement. Oftentimes, disagreement signals that your team feels comfortable collaborating and sharing their thoughts—instead of just going with the status quo.
If your team is struggling to collaborate, consider establishing team conventions and sharing your communication plan. Communication conventions define where and how your team will communicate—for example, when you should use email vs. video conferencing. Include options for synchronous—or live—communication, and offer some best practices for asynchronous—or offline—communication as well.Read: Why a clear communication plan is more important than you think
Being a democratic manager means proactively sharing information with your team and ensuring they have everything they need to succeed. There are different levels of organization and clarity that you can provide for your team.
Make sure everyone on the team has a clear understanding of who’s doing what by when. Without this clarity, team members might end up doing duplicative work—in fact, the average knowledge worker spends 236 hours a year on work that’s already been completed. If you don’t already, track your team’s work in a centralized tool, like a work management tool.
In addition to providing organization for day-to-day work, make sure team members understand how their daily work connects to company priorities. If company priorities change in some way, share that updated information with team members, and make sure they don’t have any questions about how this impacts their current work.
“A great manager brings clarity, provides feedback, and helps their team develop the competencies and skill sets necessary to navigate their day-to-day work.” —Bill Thanhouser, Web Experience Manager, Asana
Unfortunately, burnout is on the rise. In 2019, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from chronic workplace stress. One year later, 71% of knowledge workers reported experiencing burnout at least once in 2020, with 46% citing being overworked as a key factor contributing to burnout.
To prevent burnout, proactively invest in tools for workload management so you can track your team’s capacity and workload. Workload management tools can help you get a clear sense of what’s coming up on each team member’s plate, so you can redistribute work if necessary.Read: How to effectively manage your team’s workload
There’s a lot that goes into good management, and using a democratic management style is just the beginning. To continue improving your management style, actively source feedback from your team so you can support them as you grow.
Part of this growth also means communicating openly and honestly—even when sharing constructive feedback. By proactively encouraging open and honest communication, you can ensure your team is best equipped and supported at work.
To continue developing your team’s communication skills, get 12 tips to improve workplace communication.