Managers come in all shapes, sizes and temperaments. And though it is difficult to pigeon hole each one, most business school classes will teach you about four styles of management: Autocratic, Paternalistic, Democratic, and Laisse-Faire.
First up is Autocratic. These are the ‘my way or the highway’ managers.
“The biggest risk for an autocratic leader is disengaging employees,” says Jon Picoult, founder and principal of Watermark Consulting, a business advisory firm based in Simsbury, Connecticut. “Employees will always expect that you will tell them what to do. If you do that, you never give your employees an opportunity to think on their own and you may not end up having a good lieutenant to pass your baton to.”
How can an autocratic leader change his or her style?
Picoult recommends looking for opportunities where they can avoid declaring what should be done and instead ask employees how they think something should be accomplished. Posing questions such as ‘What do you think we should do in this situation?’ can turn into teaching moments, he says.
According to Adrian Miller, owner of Adrian Miller Sales Training, a sales consultancy based in Port Washington, New York, autocratic leaders may also want to try surrounding themselves with advisers from whom they can glean constructive feedback.
“If you have three or four people outside your organization that you respect and understand what you do, try to use them as a professional sounding board and ask them how to deal with situations,” Miller advises.
Next up is a Paternalistic leader. This is someone who acts like a father figure to an organization—they may listen to the concerns of subordinates, but ultimately makes decisions dictatorially.
“Paternalistic leaders risk not letting employees learn to solve problems on their own; they focus quite a bit on being right,” Picoult says.
Miller agrees, adding, “These types of managers come off as a whole lot more pleasant and easy to work with than autocrats, but the results can be the same; they often don’t want or take your feedback.”
How can a paternalistic leader change his or her management style?
“Trying listening before acting,” recommends Kate Nasser, president of CAS, Inc., a consultancy for corporations, governments and mid-sized businesses based in Summerville, New Jersey.
The concept of a Democratic leader may be attractive, but the style does have a few drawbacks, such as taking forever to make a decision.
“The expression ‘leadership by committee’ definitely applies to a democratic leader,” Nasser says, adding that extended decision-making time can lead to deadlock.
How can a democratic leader change his or her management style?
“Recognize situations in which democracy does not rule, when you need to pull the trigger and act on your best decisions,” Miller suggests. “This is especially important in times of urgency. In those times, democratic leaders need to be firm in their decision making ability.”
A Laissez-faire leader is totally hands-off with their employees. Although they may think this style helps to empower subordinates, it often does the opposite. A few years ago, I worked under a Laissez-faire leader and it wasn’t pretty. The staff was in a constant state of panic because they never knew what to do and craved direction.
“The risk of a laissez-faire leader is conveying an air of indifference to employees,” Picoult says.
How can a laissez-faire leader change his or her style?
“After asking an employee to solve their own problem, follow up a few days or weeks later to see how they are doing. That way, it still demonstrates that you are invested in their success.”