By Mark Grzeskowiak
There are really only two major management styles: authoritarian and democratic. Every other style of management, whether it's termed coaching, parenting, team-building, remote-controlling, etc., is a variation on one of these, or a combination of both.
Authoritarian and Democratic Managers
Authoritarian managers go by a variety of names. They're sometimes called top-down managers or micromanagers, and sometimes even control freaks. (The term "dictator" also comes to mind, but is probably unfair.)
Authoritarian managers expect staff to do what they're told and generally don't allow for dispute or negotiation. For example, an authoritarian manager might ask you to perform a task. You know a better and faster way to do it. You speak up, with the hope that your manager will agree. Your manager tells you to get back to work, and walks away.
Democratic managers, on the other hand, are much more egalitarian (or participatory, a term that is sometimes also used to describe them). They believe that seeking consensus with staff is the best way to draw on the broadest range of resources and thereby get the best results. Democratic managers also believe that providing staff with responsibility and showing confidence in them helps them to develop as employees and as individuals. In the long run, this also means less managing on the part of the manager.
A democratic manager will, at the very least, consider what you have to say regarding your assignment. This type of manager might even bring others into the discussion. Of course, this just means that your input won't be ignored, not that a vote will be taken on your suggestion or that your suggestion is guaranteed to be implemented.
Which style is better?
Conventional wisdom has it that purely authoritarian managers are never good managers. This view makes sense, because people don't react well to being constantly given orders. Nonetheless, with business being what it is, often there isn't time to think through and discuss in detail every problem that comes up. Sometimes things just have to be done – no questions asked!
So authoritarian managers do have a place in certain situations and certain businesses. Similarly, even if a democratically-inclined manager seeks input about a problem, she will still have to make a decision. Of course, the decision will have a better chance of being the correct one if some input has come from competent employees!
Variations on Two Themes
Because both types of management styles, in their extreme forms, are problematic (no one likes to work for a dictator any more than they like to work for someone who can't make a decision), in practice, managers tend to fall somewhere in between. Some of the more common combination management styles are the coach-manager, the friend-manager, and the parent-manager.
A coach-manager will work with his employees much like you would expect a coach to work with an athlete. A good coach knows that performance isn't just about the numbers, such as how fast the athlete ran the 100m. Developing an athlete requires more. A coach must know the athlete's strengths, weaknesses, personality, motivations, etc. This is learned by observing and listening. But a coach also requires a good amount of authority, to set and enforce rigorous training schedules.
A friend-manager will try to make sure that her relationship with staff is never just about the work. She will look for common interests (e.g. music, sports, politics) and use those to build rapport with staff. Of course, a friend-manager still needs to manage, to ensure that work is done, but having rapport makes this task easier. In the best circumstances, we do things for our friend-manager for the same reason that we do things for friends: because we like to and want to.
A parent-manager will treat staff as if they were his children. He assumes that it's his responsibility to develop staff in a more hands-on, even intrusive way. Often, this blurs the boundary between the professional and the personal, with a parent-manager not only being interested in your work, but in what you're eating, your goals in life, who you're seeing, etc. The tools that a parent-manager often uses to manage staff are similar to those used by our own parents: guilt and tough love!
Why the different styles of management?
We have already mentioned one of the reasons for different management styles – different workplaces and situations. Another reason is that personalities differ, and it only makes sense that this is reflected in an individual's approach to management. Some would also argue that the differences run along gender lines. Women are thought to be typically more democratic in their approach to management, while men are typically more authoritarian.
To draw on still another analogy, good teachers will recognize that not all students have the same learning style, and will adjust their teaching style accordingly. The same can be said for management styles – not all employees function well under any one style, and good managers will vary their style according to personality types and practical needs.
I believe that the best way to handle these differences is to understand when each extreme style is called for, but for most cases, finding a way to strike a balance between authoritarianism and democratism.