The effects of leadership —good or bad— are felt throughout an organisation.
Management styles can either help a company reach new levels of success or create frustration and discontent among its employees. That’s why it is so important to find and cultivate leadership skills in managers that suit the needs of their people and the organisation.
The right leadership styles will allow managers to build positive working relationships, navigate their teams through moments of crisis and inspire achievement and development in their team members.
In this article, we take a closer look at the 10 different types of management styles and weigh up each of their pros and cons. That way you can determine which ones are right for the goals of you and your team.
What Do We Mean by ‘Management Style’?
On the surface, this refers to the way managers lead. If you dig a little deeper it extends to how they ensure business objectives are met in the workplace.
Specifically, this term covers how managers plan and organise work, as well as how they relate to and deal with their team members.
Management styles vary depending on the company’s culture, industry and the personality of the leader.
There are three main categories of management styles. These include:
Within these categories, there are also different subtypes of management styles. We’ll go into more detail about each throughout this article.
Breaking Down Each Type of Management Style
This is considered to be the most controlling of all the management styles.
Autocratic leaders are notorious micromanagers and often dictate instructions and processes to their team members.
Communication follows a top-down approach and decision-making is centralised to management only.
Team members are expected to follow orders and are rarely encouraged to share their thoughts or ask questions.
The three subtypes of the autocratic management style are authoritative, paternalistic and persuasive.
1. Authoritative Management Style
Companies that follow an authoritative style create highly structured work environments and expect teams to do their work the same way each time.
Authoritative managers don’t trust their people to achieve business objectives without continuous supervision.
Creativity and “thinking outside the box” are also strongly discouraged within the authoritative management style.
✅ Inexperienced teams are given clear instructions to account for their skill gaps. This can increase turnaround times and produce higher quality work.
✅ Team members have absolute clarity on what is expected of them due to clearly defined roles and organisational structures.
❌ Training in authoritative working environments may be too structured and overbearing. This restricts peoples development as they may fear being judged or unfairly criticised.
❌ Autocratic managers can make their people feel undervalued or ignored, which often leads to low team morale.
2. Persuasive Management Style
These managers use persuasive techniques to convince their people that top-down decisions are in the best interests of the company and team.
Unlike authoritative leaders who simply give orders, persuasive managers welcome questions and explain the key business decisions.
This helps people feel more valued and part of the company’s big decisions.
✅ When people trust management and feel included in the workplace, they are more likely to accept top-down decision-making.
✅ Persuasive managers give their people greater levels of freedom, which can lead to higher employee engagement and a positive working environment.
❌ This leadership style will only be successful if managers have built a foundation of trust with their teams.
❌ Persuasive managers may risk coming across as disingenuous. This can potentially limit productivity and buy-in from the company’s people.
3. Paternalistic Management Style
In this management style, a single authority figure treats their professional teams as though they are part of an extended family.
Teams who work within these environments accept that the manager knows best and has the company’s best interests at heart.
Although the manager's decision-making process is explained to the rest of the team, collaboration and feedback is not welcomed.
In many Western cultures, this type of management style is known by the gender-neutral phrase “parental leadership”.
As well-intentioned as it may be, referring to an organisation as a family is becoming taboo among people managers as it can lead to unrealistic expectations of the relationship between an employee and the company.
Thinking of employees as family can make conversations around performance and termination uncomfortable and unexpected.
✅ Managers have a genuine care for the wellbeing of their team .
✅ Good performance is often rewarded in paternalistic working environments. This can help people feel highly motivated and more engaged in their work.
❌ All decisions flow through one person, which may result in teams feeling resentful towards the manager.
❌ Teams may become too dependent on management for decision-making and don’t have an opportunity to develop their problem solving skills.
Does Autocratic Management Ever Work?
Although it may seem controversial, research shows that there is a time and a place for autocratic leadership.
One study in 2018 looked at which management styles would be most effective in the modern workplace.
The researcher surveyed 100 people across different positions in a multinational company.
One of the observations was that in emergencies, authoritative leaders are actually extremely effective.
This is because they can act decisively and adapt the company’s processes without any unnecessary delays.
Some companies may have experienced autocratic management during the first Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown.
Almost overnight, managers had to make decisions and quickly implement processes that would allow their teams to work remotely.
Often considered to be the opposite of autocratic management, this approach welcomes and prioritises team participation in the decision-making process.
The democratic management style encourages people to share their opinions and skills to reach a general consensus.
Despite the collaborative nature of this approach, the manager still has the final say on the company’s decisions.
1. Consultative Management Style
Before making a final decision, consultative managers will speak to every member of their team to get their opinions and ideas.
This form of two-way communication is an effective way to involve team members in the goals and operating procedures of the company.
Consultative managers also have an open-door policy to have regular conversations about the individual's responsibilities and overall experience at the company.
✅ Managers are able to get the opinions of the whole team, which can help with problem solving.
✅ There are often greater levels of retention because people feel involved with the ‘behind-the-scenes’ processes of the company.
✅ Stronger relationships are formed between management and team members because they often share their ideas and opinions.
❌ The democratic leadership style often delays decision-making because regular consultation can become time consuming.
❌ Team members may feel that their ideas are overlooked if they are not implemented.
❌ Without the right leadership skills, this management style can create conflicting opinions and tension within the workplace.
2. Collaborative Management Style
Companies that use this approach bring their managers, executives and people operations together to work towards business objectives.
One of the most important roles of managers in this style is to facilitate collaboration between different departments.
Collaborative managers also encourage teams to take collective responsibility for tasks and projects.
✅ Teams across departments work together towards a shared goal, which can shorten lead times.
✅ Conflict is resolved quickly because collaborative managers encourage an open style of communication.
✅ These managers are often more aware of the challenges affecting their team.
❌ In big teams, people who are new to the workplace may feel uncertain about their role and struggle to take charge of their autonomy at first. This can slow down progress and decrease productivity.
❌ Issues can arise with different types of working styles within the company. This means that managers have to consider all types of personalities and working styles to avoid conflict.
3. Participative Management Style
Teams are given more information about the company’s challenges and goals so that they can work together to find creative solutions.
The company’s people are trusted to fulfil tasks on their own, but participative managers play a critical role in providing direction to keep teams on track.
✅ Team members feel trusted and empowered to decide how to complete their work.
✅ Participative managers help their people feel as though they are part of the success of the company. This results in better engagement and motivation between team members.
✅ Teams often find innovative solutions because they are able to share ideas and communicate openly.
❌ The participative management style only works if people are willing to engage and share their opinions in group discussions.
❌ Similar to the consultative management style, this approach can delay time-sensitive projects and decision-making.
4. Transformational Management Style
These managers are thought of as trailblazers. They believe in pushing their teams outside of their comfort zones in order to be successful.
Leaders that follow a transformational management style aim to inspire their people to keep pushing themselves to reach their potential.
These managers also mentor their teams to improve their skills and achieve their professional goals.
✅ These managers often establish a learning culture in their organisations by encouraging their teams to develop new skills.
✅ Transformational managers often think creatively to improve existing processes in a company and bring about positive change for its people.
✅ Leaders that take this approach are often charismatic and motivational. This encourages teams to be more productive and engaged in their work.
❌ This management style can lead to burnout and higher stress levels because people are continuously pushed to achieve success.
❌ Transformational managers are often too focused on the bigger picture and are not detail-oriented. This may result in a lack of short-term focus or important processes being missed.
Here’s What the Research Says
A study in 2020 investigated the relationship between different management styles and work outcomes amongst information and communication technology professionals.
Overall, the researchers found that leaders who inspire their people through shared goals and values promoted higher levels of engagement and innovative work behaviour.
They also found that the transformational management style encourages teams to go the extra mile to challenge old ways of doing things within a company.
5. Coaching Management Style
Similar to sports coaches or mentors, these managers aim to facilitate and improve their people’s long-term professional development.
People teams are motivated by training courses or promotions, with the aim of enhancing the company’s overall performance.
Managers who use this style will also use business goals and obstacles to teach their people valuable career lessons.
✅ The coaching management style creates opportunities for personal and professional growth.
✅ Teams are given ongoing feedback and mentoring by their managers, which facilitates relationship building.
❌ This management style can be resource intensive because it involves significant time and energy to be successful.
❌ This style is only effective if the leader has strong management skills to provide ongoing support to their team.
Take a Leaf Out of Pete Carroll’s Book
For those who aren’t familiar with American football, Pete Carroll is one of the few coaches in history to win a Super Bowl and a National College Championship.
Instead of focusing on the football team as a unit, Carroll helped each player reach their full potential not just as athletes, but as human beings.
Carroll was successful because he cared about each of the players and their unique needs and goals.
Many people criticised his personal management style because they felt that it focused too much on emotions and relationships.
However, his coaching style created a team culture that attracted some of the most talented players in the US.
By nurturing connections with his players and focusing on their individuality, he saw that the whole team benefitted over time.
The same principles can be applied to business management.
Mentoring team members with empathy and acceptance gives people psychological safety to share their ideas, develop their skills and reach their full potential.
Just like Carroll’s football teams, this approach can make your organisation hugely successful.
Loosely translated to “let it be”, this is a hands-off management style where teams are left to make their own decisions.
Laissez faire managers will offer guidance when necessary, but are confident in their people’s abilities to use the company’s resources to meet business goals.
This management style works well with highly capable and self-motivated teams.
1. Visionary Management Style
These managers communicate the project or company’s purpose to their team, with the aim of convincing them to work hard to achieve this vision.
As long as the team is being productive, visionary managers will leave their people to work with little or no supervision.
Despite the hands-off approach, managers will check in with their teams to ensure they are making enough progress and provide feedback on their performance.
✅ Teams have a greater sense of autonomy and feel more confident in their work.
✅ The visionary management style places an emphasis on acknowledging people’s achievements. This helps teams feel rewarded for their hard work.
✅ Visionary managers create environments where people feel empowered to be creative and try new things to achieve business objectives.
❌ This management style generally doesn’t work for inexperienced teams that need ongoing guidance to help complete their responsibilities.
❌ For visionary managers to be successful, they need to be naturally inspiring to encourage their team to buy into their vision and approach.
❌ A fixation on the manager's vision can lead to other good ideas being overlooked. This is why visionary leaders need to be objective and consider other opinions.
2. Delegative Management Style
This management style refers to leaders who prefer to delegate tasks to their team and let them work on their own terms.
Although these leaders give their people a great deal of autonomy, they are still responsible for ensuring that tasks are completed on time.
Delegative managers prefer to provide their teams with the necessary tools to get work done and give their input when people ask for it.
✅ In delegative working environments, team work abilities are strengthened because people have to work together to problem solve.
✅ Companies that follow this style tend to have more a more positive corporate culture because their teams don’t feel micromanaged.
❌ Delegative managers may come across as disinterested or uninvolved, which can create resentment.
❌ Without ongoing feedback and input from managers, teams may lose direction and become unproductive.
Laissez Faire Management Is a Delicate Balance
There are a few people who thrive by being micromanaged. Similarly, some people don’t suit an entirely hands-off approach either.
This is why the laissez faire management style requires balance.
People need to be confident in their abilities to get work done, but also allowed to ask for help from management when it’s needed.
Company leaders also have a responsibility to keep track of their team’s progress and account for skill gaps where they exist.
Think of an agency that specialises in producing and designing apps.
In these environments, a laissez faire management style is effective because it gives teams space to innovate and create engaging, high-quality apps.
To ensure the team is working collaboratively and on track to meet the project deadline, management should arrange weekly check-ins and offer their help where needed.
This would be a great way to provide direction to the company’s people operations, while also supporting their autonomy.
In reality, it's rare that leaders adopt one style of management and stick with it forever. This is because there’s no correct, single way to lead a team.
Management styles can even change based on the project and tasks being undertaken.
When Learnerbly rebranded recently, we had a democratic approach to what the new brand would look like.
However, when it came to implementing the changes, the marketing team were autocratic in divvying up tasks to the wider team.
The best leaders make use of elements from all the management styles to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, resources and goals.
Sometimes, there is a time and place for an autocratic style. Similarly, other circumstances call for a more hands-off, laissez faire approach.
Part of the challenge of being a great manager is knowing what the best approach is for your team and adapting your style accordingly.