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9 types of management styles and when to use them

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia Martins
January 5th, 2024
9 min read
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While all managers have similar responsibilities, it’s normal to tailor your particular management style to your communication preferences and personality type. That said, being aware of your default style can help you grow and better support your team. Below we dive into nine different management styles, the pros and cons of each, and when to use them.

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 techniques guide 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 self 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.

Read: What makes a good manager? 11 actionable tips to help your team succeed

What are management styles?

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 management styles describe how different types of managers specifically use their managerial toolkit to motivate team members. 

There are a huge variety of management styles. Every manager naturally leans toward 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. 

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Types of management styles

There are a wide variety of management styles, with more being defined every day. Anything that defines how you can guide your team, plan work, and connect the dots can be considered a management style. Some of these styles are top-down, while others are more hands-off. The nine different management styles include:

[inline illustration] The 9 management styles (infographic)

1. Autocratic management style

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 toward, 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.

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.

Best for: When decisions need to be made quickly and there is little room for error. In crisis situations, the autocratic style is the way to go. 

2. Persuasive management style

One type of autocratic management is persuasive management. The persuasive management style puts decision-making totally in the hands of managers but encourages managers to share the logic and rationale behind their decisions. This helps team members feel more connected to the decision-making process.

The advantages of a persuasive management style: 

  • It can help educate junior-level team members about what goes into managerial decisions. 

  • It builds trust between the team and the manager since the team is given an explanation for every decision. 

The disadvantages of a persuasive management style: 

  • Like in any autocratic style, team members can feel creatively stifled. 

  • Team members may feel like their feedback isn’t heard since communication is still one-sided.  

Best for: Managers that are leading a more inexperienced team. Under this dynamic, the manager should be the sole decision-maker based on their experience but should share explanations in order to help their team grow.  

3. Paternalistic management style

Another type of the autocratic style, paternalistic management is a form of unilateral decision-making where the team’s best interests are always kept in mind. While communication is still one-sided, team members are heard and decisions are made with their wants in mind. However, there is no collaboration between the manager and the team about the decision itself. 

In this management style, managers try to create a feeling of trust within their team. By doing so, their direct reports are confident their feedback is taken to heart whenever the manager makes a decision. 

The advantages of the paternalistic style: 

  • Managers are truly committed to the well-being of their team. Team member well-being is at the heart of every decision. 

  • Unlike other autocratic styles, team members are actively encouraged to express their desires to their manager, even if they don’t get to collaborate on the decision-making process itself. 

The disadvantage of the paternalistic style: 

  • Loyalty to leadership is imperative for this style to be effective. If the team doesn’t trust management, they’ll be less motivated to produce strong results. 

Best for: Organizations with strong company culture. If leadership is able to build strong bonds within the organization, team members can trust that the right decisions are being made. 

4. Democratic management style

Democratic, or participative, 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 employee engagement. Though they are still the person making the final decision, managers who use a democratic 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 toward 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 disadvantage of a democratic management style:

  • This collaborative management style takes more time than the others because the manager is more present.

Best for: Teams that are constantly looking to change and improve their processes. If you manage this type of team, it’s best that everyone stays on the same page when it comes to decision-making. 

Read: Understanding kaizen: A guide to continuous improvement in business

5. Consultative management style

A subset of the democratic management style, consultative managers are consistently looking for feedback from their team and trying to improve in their position. Differing from the authoritative style, consultative managers rarely make decisions alone but instead encourage collaboration from their team. 

The advantages of the consultative management style: 

  • It breeds healthy communications among teams.

  • It encourages upward feedback.

The disadvantages of the consultative management style

  • It can lead to inefficiency and slow decision-making since everyone is involved in the process. 

Best for: Managers who want to take on more of a mentor role. Consultative managers strive to educate and influence their team through the decision-making process.  

6. Transformational management style

Another type of democratic management is the transformational management style. Used predominantly among creative teams, transformational managers strive to create a culture that encourages adaptability, innovation, and problem-solving. 

Transformational managers are invested in the professional growth of their team and look less at short-term projects and more at long-term development. Oftentimes, this means setting lofty and challenging goals for team members.

The advantages of a transformational management style: 

  • This style works very well for motivated team members looking to grow in their careers and roles. 

  • It helps breathe life into more mundane projects and helps team members see the bigger picture of what they’re working toward. 

The disadvantage of a transformational management style:

  • Since this style relies on setting difficult goals, it can backfire if your team isn’t motivated enough to achieve them. As a result, this management style can sometimes lead to burnout and employee turnover. 

Best for: Fast-moving, intrinsically-motivated teams that are always adapting to new circumstances. By integrating adaptability into their management style, transformative managers prepare their team for whatever may come their way.

Read: What is intrinsic motivation and how does it work?

7. Laissez-faire management style

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 nearly 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.

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.

Best for: Self-motivated creative teams that thrive when building their own ideas. This model works best for teams that work individually and don’t require much supervision. 

8. Visionary management style

A type of laissez-faire management, the visionary management style is less concerned with the day-to-day operations and more interested in educating team members about the larger vision of the organization. Visionary managers tend to motivate and inspire rather than give instructions about day-to-day tasks. 

These managers tend to be more outgoing and charismatic. This style works well for teams that are good at managing themselves and don’t require much individual attention. For less experienced team members, this may not be the most effective style of management. 

The advantages of visionary management style: 

  • When done well, this style can spur creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. 

  • The visionary style can encourage your team to work harder because they’re truly passionate about their work.

The disadvantages of the visionary style: 

  • If you want to use this style, you can’t feign inspiration. The visionary management is only effective when the manager is truly passionate about the company’s mission.

  • This method can feel more like leadership than management. If you use this method, be sure you’re continuing to support your team rather than just trying to inspire. 

Best for: Innovative teams looking to disrupt an industry. In this case, a visionary leader can be exactly what a team needs to continue thinking outside the box. 

9. Delegative management style

Another type of laissez-faire management, delegative management refers to a system where managers and team members only interact when managers are assigning them tasks. From there, the manager will come in at the end of the project, review the work, and the cycle will restart. 

In this style, team members generally have the freedom to do tasks in their own way. Like teams with visionary managers, members tend to have a strong knowledge of the work and how it needs to be done.

The advantages of the delegative style: 

  • It allows team members to maximize creativity in their assignments. With little to no supervision, team members can think outside the box when completing tasks. 

  • There’s no risk of micromanaging in this style. As a result, team members feel autonomous in their work. 

The disadvantages of the delegative style: 

  • Without a clear feedback process during the project life cycle, the end result may suffer. 

  • With the manager only existing to delegate, there’s no process for conflict resolution.  

Best for: Employees with more expertise than their manager. In cases like this, the manager should facilitate rather than support and give feedback.  

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Management qualities and responsibilities

No matter what style you choose to use, it’s important to understand what it means to be a manager, and what qualities of a leader 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 vs. leadership styles

Another quality of a good manager is simply knowing thedifference 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 skills primarily focus on motivating team members, leading company culture, and creative problem-solving. You can use leadership styles in management, but you need to make sure your main focus is on the specific aspects of management. 

Read: Leadership vs. management: What’s the difference?

There’s a lot that goes into good management, and using the right 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.

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