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Meetings & Communication

5 empowering management styles | Why they work & how managers can identify their own

Leapsome Team
5 empowering management styles | Why they work & how managers can identify their own
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Effective managers are the backbone of any great company. They not only propel organizations toward their long-term objectives and positively affect growth and profitability, but they also have a significant impact on how much team members enjoy their jobs. Indeed, managers and leaders account for as much as 70% of the variance in employee engagement levels (1). Poor employee-manager relationships are also cited as a top reason for turnover (2).

However, anyone who’s worked with at least a couple of excellent team leaders in their careers can tell you that there are many different ways to be a great manager. So, if your organization wants to invest in enriching managerial skills, a key piece of the puzzle is figuring out what management style people naturally gravitate toward and how they can leverage it to better support team members.

This article not only explores what management styles are and outlines key reflection questions that enable people to identify their own but also discusses the five people-centered management styles we favor at Leapsome and the three we’d recommend avoiding.

  1. Gallup, 2023
  2. Leapsome, 2023

What is a management style?

A management style, sometimes referred to as a leadership style, is the way a professional leader goes about managing team members, enabling them to do their best work and guiding them toward company objectives. It extends to how managers organize and delegate tasks, make decisions, view people management, interact with employees, and generally behave at work on a day-to-day basis.

There’s no single ‘best’ management style — the most suitable approach depends on internal and external factors such as the organization, company culture, industry, business priorities, cultural norms, people strategy, and other variables. It’s also worth pointing out that people often naturally gravitate toward a certain management style that aligns with their personality, which we’ll explore below. However, excellent leaders are able to integrate elements of different management styles when the situation calls for it.

Questions to help identify management style

A photo of two professionals looking at documents together.

To excel as a leader, you first need to figure out your management style. Then, explore what tools and techniques you can leverage to better support your team

While there’s no clear-cut way for someone to identify their management style, encouraging them to reflect on how they behave as a leader in an intentional way is the best place to begin. It’s also worth keeping in mind that people may naturally lean toward certain management styles depending on their personality and the situation. Start to zero in on this by asking your team leaders to consider the following questions:

  • How do I make decisions? Do I prefer to do so autonomously, or do I involve team members in the process as much as possible?
  • How do I handle conflict? When it arises, do I prefer to intervene immediately, or do I give team members time to try and resolve issues on their own?
  • How do I communicate with my team? Do I gravitate toward a top-down style, delegate authority, or foster open dialogue?
  • How do I motivate my team? Do I primarily use intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, or a combination of both?
  • What role does feedback play in my management style? Do I provide it regularly? How often?

Next, team leaders should consider how their answers fit in with the following five people-centered management styles. For example, if they value collaborating with their reports while making decisions and strive to get as much team input as possible, that may be a sign that they prefer a democratic or collaborative management style. Or, perhaps they make an effort to communicate with employees one-on-one or in small groups rather than speaking to large numbers of people in meetings or video conferences and prioritize honest, development-focused conversations. In that case, they might gravitate toward the coaching or transformational management style.

👾 Curious how tech can help leaders manage better?

We’ve got the answers you’re looking for in our comprehensive breakdown of the top employee management software solutions.

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5 people-centered management styles to strive for

No two great leaders are exactly the same, but they likely have commonalities in terms of their approach to team management. At Leapsome, we value a collaborative, people-centered approach to leadership that prioritizes making work fulfilling and enjoyable for everyone, so let’s explore five management styles that we feel embody that ethos.

1. Democratic management style

A screenshot of an interface within Leapsome’s Surveys module.
With our Surveys module, leaders and managers can get a quick read on survey results before bringing the results back to their team for further discussion

The democratic management style is exactly what it sounds like — it involves team members in decision-making as much as possible and proactively gathers their feedback and input on a continuous basis. Rather than the team manager telling reports on how the workplace will function, democratic managers ask employees what they think will work best. Proponents of the democratic management style truly believe that collaborative decision-making generates better results and make it a priority in their daily work.

Why we recommend it

  • Positively impacts individual and organizational performance
  • Increases team member motivation and engagement levels
  • Allows for creativity, innovation, and risk-taking in the decision-making process
  • Is naturally conducive to teamwork and collaboration
  • Helps foster future organizational leaders

How it looks in action

In the current world of work, democratic leaders go beyond encouraging people to speak up in workplace meetings and discussions. They also leverage people enablement tools to gather as many team members’ candid perspectives as possible, such as:

  • Surveys to anonymously collect employee feedback and leverage sentiment analysis to get a quick read on common themes. This helps managers bring in honest input from across the team that can help inform the best course of action.
  • A virtual Q&A board like the one within our Instant Feedback module so that employees can anonymously post questions for leaders and get quick answers. Team members can also upvote other people’s questions so team managers know which queries to prioritize. 

2. Visionary management style

Visionary leaders are big-picture thinkers who excel at motivating and inspiring people to work toward common goals. They’re also known for having cutting-edge, innovative ideas that are ahead of the curve, which is a reason why Steve Jobs is a common example of this approach. They’re often effective, exciting managers because they have the ability to clearly envision and communicate how short to medium-term tasks, projects, and initiatives add up and propel the company toward its long-term objectives. It’s worth pointing out that the most effective visionary leaders don’t get overly stuck in the big picture and are also able to bring themselves back down to earth when their ideas aren’t realistic.

Why we recommend it

  • Enables team members to “pursue the same vision” and organizations to effectively establish, align on, and reach their goals
  • Enriches company culture and makes workplaces more dynamic and compelling
  • Results in more buy-in from other leaders, team members, stakeholders, and collaborators
  • Stimulates “citizenship behavior” in employees, which refers to people’s positive actions and behaviors within their organization that aren’t part of their contractual duties
  • Can increase workplace resilience through big-picture thinking

How it looks in action

Many people make the mistake of thinking that visionary managers are born with innate skills that can’t be learned. That couldn’t be further from the case. Dr. Grace Lee talks about three key pillars that visionary leaders embody in their professional lives in the Career Revisionist podcast and discusses how they can all be acquired, practiced, and enriched over time:

  • Insight — Different from knowledge, insight involves a deep level of understanding that enables people to turn their learnings into new wisdom that can be applied across disciplines and industries.
  • Imagination — Visionary managers have “an ability to picture things in their minds before they exist inside this world,” Dr. Grace Lee explains. One of the biggest barriers to imagination is when leaders get too consumed by doing and don’t focus enough on ideating and “daring to ask the question ‘what if?’
  • Intuition — Not the same as gut instinct, intuition relates to leaders accurately perceiving the world around them and building a detailed, bigger-picture understanding of their surroundings.
Visionary leaders 🤝 aligned goals

Our Goals module can get your entire organization pulling in the same direction toward common objectives.

Learn more

3. Coaching management style

A screenshot of an interface from Leapsome’s Meetings module showing a 1:1 template.
The 1:1 check-in template within our Meetings module can help managers hone their coaching skills by keeping discussions focused and action-oriented 

Leaders who gravitate toward the coaching management style focus on developing, guiding, and supporting team members as individuals. They not only work with employees one-on-one to enable them to perform at their best, but they also actively help them work toward their professional futures and aspirations. Managers using the coaching style also excel at collaborating with team members to identify both their strengths and areas for improvement and understanding how their professional attributes fit within the larger group and benefit the whole organization. A lack of career growth and/or development opportunities is a key reason why employees leave their jobs, so leaders who support learning and growth can also increase retention levels. 

As noted in the Harvard Business Review, “An effective manager-as-coach asks questions instead of providing answers, supports employees instead of judging them, and facilitates their development instead of dictating what has to be done.”

Why we recommend it

  • Leads to stronger, more trusting, and more meaningful relationships between managers and reports
  • Fosters employees’ personal and professional growth and empowers them to reach their full potential
  • Can result in team members that are up to 40% more engaged, put in 38% more effort, and are 20% more likely to stay with their organizations, according to Gallup
  • Cultivates a collaborative, supportive, people-centered company culture
  • Can support internal motivation as employees take ownership of their own growth

How it looks in action

Excellent coaching leaders dedicate a lot of their time to working directly with individual employees as well as smaller groups. That gives them the opportunity to provide people with individualized attention to identify what kind of support they need, what work they should prioritize, and what new challenges they suit or might like to take on next. Of course, doing so can be time-consuming, so it’s ideal for managers who gravitate toward this approach to use people enablement tools to streamline and enrich their processes, such as:

  • Leapsome’s Learning module, which lets team leaders collaboratively build custom learning paths with reports based on their current needs and priorities.
  • Our Meetings module, which enables managers and employees to collaborate on 1:1 agendas, establish clear action items, and align discussions with goals and recent feedback.
  • Our Reviews module, which automates the performance evaluation process and allows managers to track performance progress over time. Since one-third of employees aren’t satisfied with their organization’s performance review process, with a majority calling for more frequent reviews, this is a crucial lever to pull in order to improve engagement. 

4. Collaborative management style

A photo of two employees working together.

The collaborative management style values team members working together across department lines as much as possible

The collaborative management style is largely seen as a reaction to the more outdated top-down management style and is becoming increasingly commonplace. It challenges how companies have traditionally been organized and aims to draw people out of their departments and silos and into common, collaborative spaces to solve problems and move projects and initiatives forward together. While the collaborative management style has different extremes, its proponents typically value putting less emphasis on titles, transparently sharing information across all organizational levels, having cross-functional and multidisciplinary teams, and allowing for collective decision-making.

Why we recommend it

  • Fosters well-informed, engaged employees who feel their efforts are valuable and impactful
  • Modern professionals often prefer working in collaborative vs. top-down environments, which helps with recruitment and retention
  • Organizations with high levels of C-suite collaboration grow more quickly

How it looks in action

The Harvard Business Review identified four key areas where excellent collaborative leaders stand out:

  • Playing the role of ‘global connector’ — Effective collaborative leaders not only facilitate unexpected connections within their organizations but also network consistently to uncover new business opportunities, come up with fresh ideas, and access different perspectives.
  • Attracting and engaging diverse talent Diverse teams are more successful teams, and collaborative managers use that fact to their advantage. They recruit people from distinct backgrounds, cultures, generations, and experience levels because they know they can all bring something unique to the table.
  • Modeling collaboration — Collaborative leaders prioritize meaningful teamwork at the C-suite level just as much as they encourage it within the rest of the company.
  • Showing a strong hand — Sometimes, with collaborative leadership, there are too many cooks in the kitchen, and reaching any kind of consensus can be arduous. That’s why experienced collaborative managers know how to conclude discussions and debates respectfully and facilitate final decisions everyone can get behind.

5. Transformational management style

Transformational leadership hinges on change, motivation, innovation, and encouragement. Proponents of this management style are able to identify improvements and adjustments that need to be made within an organization, collaboratively come up with goals and action plans to make them happen, and motivate and inspire employees to bring them to fruition. As the Harvard Business Review describes it: “Transformational leaders are continually thinking about what their organizations should become.”

While the transformational management style is similar to the visionary management style, there are some notable differences between them. Most importantly, visionary leaders excel at strategic future planning and big-picture thinking, whereas transformational leaders zero in on the short-term and prioritize learning and development, innovation, and creative problem-solving.

Why we recommend it

How it looks in action

Transformational leaders embody these four “I” elements in their professional lives:

  • Idealized influence — They’re charismatic, model ethical behavior, communicate clearly and effectively, and quickly earn people’s trust and respect.
  • Inspirational motivation — They’re able to come up with meaningful goals and big-picture objectives for the future and use their communication skills to “make the vision understandable, precise, powerful, and engaging.”
  • Individualized consideration — They’re mindful of individual team members’ needs, take an interest in their development, are supportive and empathetic, and use tools like Instant Feedback to encourage and inspire.
  • Intellectual stimulation — They encourage creative, independent thinking and empower people to take risks and challenge established ways of doing things.
💡 Our Instant Feedback module is ideal for transformational leaders as it gives them an easy way to energize and appreciate team members — through praise and recognition. For instance, they can shout people out with the Praise Wall feature and give their achievements the public visibility they deserve.

3 management styles to avoid

A photo of two professionals working quietly at individual desks.

Team managers have a significant influence on employee morale, motivation, and satisfaction, so keeping away from problematic management styles is essential

Just as there are many highly effective, people-centered management styles, there are also a few we’d recommend avoiding. Of course, there might be certain situations where elements of these management styles could work well, but they need to be carefully considered and counterbalanced with other approaches. 

We generally steer clear of them as they don’t prioritize individual growth, foster genuine engagement, or encourage people to work to their full potential and take advantage of their own professional strengths.

  • Laissez-faire management style — In French, laissez-faire means not interfering and letting things take their own course. That’s what this management style is all about. Leaders give team members a lot of freedom and autonomy to manage their own work, make their own decisions, and organize their own schedules. There’s nothing wrong with that at face value, and it’s healthy for team managers to encourage reports to work autonomously. However, a 2021 study on authoritative and laissez-faire leadership reported that this approach was only feasible with team members who are “highly skilled and motivated.” That’s because it doesn’t allow for much individualized support, professional development opportunities, or 1:1 guidance and can quickly lead to overwhelmed employees who feel confused, frustrated, and dissatisfied with their jobs. In addition, even if someone is an expert in their field, it doesn’t mean that they won’t be interested in a more collaborative professional environment that offers them relevant training rather than working in a silo. The same study also identified the laissez-faire leadership style as “ineffective and inactive.” 
  • Autocratic management style — This kind of leader makes most if not all decisions based on their own opinions, experiences, and judgments. They take a top-down approach to management and rarely prompt others for advice, guidance, or input. Perhaps not surprisingly, autocratic management styles are often portrayed negatively. Indeed, when Leadership IQ presented the statement “My ideal leader tells employees exactly how they’d like tasks/projects to be performed” to 14,000 professionals, 63% responded that it wouldn’t be their ideal. The autocratic management style can be necessary in specific situations like emergencies or when a snap decision needs to be made without any time to consult large numbers of people. Nevertheless, autocratic leadership is often harmful as it doesn’t give team members an opportunity to share feedback and make their voices heard, and it’s also detrimental to engagement and morale.
  • Transactional management style — The professional relationship between managers and reports is imagined as an exchange or transaction. Basically, leaders have clearly defined expectations of employees. When they perform well, they get some kind of reward. When their performance needs improvement, they receive some kind of punishment. While this management style can be effective in motivating people on an extrinsic level and pushing them to achieve short-term goals, it isn’t worthwhile, as fostering intrinsic motivation is what people-centered teams should aim for to nurture lasting growth. In addition, transactional leaders usually have a rigid approach to management, which leaves little room for innovation, creativity, and problem-solving.

Leapsome enables leaders to empower people holistically & effectively

A screenshot that shows how Leapsome’s eight modules and features work together holistically.
Excellent leaders are diverse, and so are Leapsome’s tools — our array of modules and features work together to empower and enrich all management styles

All in all, there’s no one best way to manage a team. The optimal approach depends on the managerial style someone naturally gravitates toward, along with other variables like the industry, company culture, and business priorities. However, we’ve outlined the five approaches to management that we believe are the most aligned with contemporary workplaces that value collaboration, empowerment, and engagement.

Leapsome is an ideal platform for leaders who want to enrich their managerial skills or integrate their leadership qualities into their day-to-day work in a more meaningful way. More specifically:

  • Surveys enables managers to gather genuine feedback from team members to better understand their needs and enact positive change.
  • Meetings allows team leaders to structure their 1:1 check-ins and group conversations and make them more structured and actionable.
  • Learning gives managers and reports the tools they need to build customized learning paths that align with their needs and future aspirations.
  • Reviews allows leaders to automate the performance assessment process, avoid bias, and make data-guided observations and decisions.
  • Instant Feedback makes it easy to facilitate a feedback culture, share meaningful appreciation and praise, and prompt team members for their input. 

Because no matter how you lead your team, Leapsome holistic people enablement tools will help you do so more effectively.

🤩 Make work more fulfilling and enjoyable with Leapsome

Our diverse range of modules and features enable managers to better support team members throughout every stage of the employee experience.

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Leapsome Team

Written by the team at Leapsome — the all-in-one people enablement platform for driving employee engagement, performance, and learning.
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