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BY Kelly Poulson

6 Management Styles And When To Utilize Them

By Kelly Poulson

manager leading a team

Photo credit: © Sergey Nivens / Adobe Stock

Many of you have at one point or another thought about what you would do differently than your boss when it's your turn to be in management. Or perhaps you're in management already and consciously trying to cultivate and evolve your own style and brand of leadership. But management is a simple word that means a lot of different things. And because management can occur in many different contexts, companies and industries, you may find yourself wondering if your natural and default management style is really appropriate for achieving all your goals. 

Being a skilled manager is no joke. Many of us early on in our careers thought, “Why doesn’t my manager do this or that? It’s so simple. When I’m a manager someday, I’ll be so much better.” While you may be right, being "better" is not so clear cut when there are different situations and types of people you have to manage. 

The fact of the matter is, we’ve all got different ideas about what is the best management style and leadership style. And people all need a little variety in terms of how their managers work with them. Some of us work better under laissez-faire management while other subordinates can thrive under top-down leadership. For others of us, there are we may refuse to work iron grip and decisions of an autocratic leadership style, and instead expect two-way communication and participative management that collaborates with team members about shared goals.

Believe it or not, there is a time and place for each of the six styles identified by Hay-McBer. It’s not a one size fits all approach and what works best depends on the people involved as well as the situations and problems at hand. In fact, the best managers are able to navigate through each of the six leadership styles effectively, adapting as their style of leadership to the circumstances at hand.

Let’s dig a little deeper into each type and when it might be best to utilize.

The Coercive Management Style

The Coercive style is pretty much what is sounds like. The person practising this management style gives clear directions and orders. It’s a style best emboided by the saying: “It's my way or the highway”. This type of manager tends to keeps their team very closely management and under control. Some might even describe their behavior as micromanagingThese types of managers tend to be pretty tough to work with.

That said, there are advantages to the coercive management style. Your manager may be brilliant or know very well how to accomplish a set of goals. This leadership style will ensure that his or her team is focused on executing the task at hand in a way that gives him or her full control of the situation. On the other hand, the team may feel this to be a disheartening approach that encourages little individual contribution or learning. If there is any let-down or unexpected bad results in terms of performance or reaching the stated goal, employee morale could be very low. Plus, it can be exhausting to be that kind of manager.

Now, that said, everyone can potentially get coercive sometimes. And a coercive management approach can come in very handy when there’s an emergency or if things MUST be approached in a certain way. However, if you’ve got an eager, junior team looking to learn - they may be out of luck with this type of manager. That challenge also goes for the flipside in terms of experience. Teams who are highly skilled, may find themselves frustrated by the micromanagement and feel unable to experiment or leverage past learnings if they are in contrast with their manager's views.

The Authoritative Manager

An Authoritative manager tends to be a visionary. These types of leaders focus on providing long term vision and direction for their people.

In terms of advantages of this leadership style, the team tends to get the clarity that they need and receive feedback to keep them motivated. In this case, innovation and risk are encouraged if it supports the ultimate vision. A leader who can pull off this style tends to be credible and able to use persuasian to win over the team to their view and vision for how things will be accomplished. 

An authoratitive management style can come in handy when you're facing creative problems that require a team to draw on different ideas to come to a out-of-the box solution. Moreover, it can give employees a sense of self-esteem to have the freedom and flexibility to pursue their goals with a framework in mind -- minus the micromanagement.

That said, if the team members are too junior, this type of manager might be a bit too hands off for them. There is not necessarily a lot of detailed guidance on how to accomplish things and expectations are either that you already have some experience or will figure it out. For mixed teams, or confident and resourceful individuals, however, this can be a great approach for a skilled team members looking for freedom to pursue their results and do their work while also staying motivated!

The Affiliative Management Style

A leader who uses an Affiliative style is all about creating harmony on the team. These people tend to focus on people first, always. They tend to avoid conflict and try their best to keep everyone happy. As you can imagine, this style is awesome when collaborative work needs to be accomplished.

It can also be important if there are a lot of strong personalities on the team for an affiliative style to create peace and minimize the conflict points while stressing the group and team-work aspects. Sometimes a group of high-achieving Type As personalities can thrive under an affiliative leadership style whereas otherwise infighting and competitiveness could undermine group goals. That said, harmony sometimes isn't always possible at the end of the day. With this leadership style, a lot of time will be spent on trying to socialize ideas rather -- which may be time taken away from decision-making or execution.

Moreover, where the affiliate management style may not work very well is when there are high intensity, or high-pressured goals that require sacrifice or simply creates disagreement between the team. Sometimes hard decisions have to be made that will anger or annoy certain members of the team and an affiliative manager may shy away from making the tough calls and decisions in order to keep the peace. This type of management style, therefore, may work better in environments or for operating groups where pressures and stakes are lower. 

The Democratic Leader

A manager leading with a Democratic style is someone who is looking to build consensus and commitment amongst the group. On this person’s team, everyone has input that is valued and valuable. The democratic management style works especially well when you’ve got a team effort you need worked on and a group that has some experience under their belt. It can take time to hear everyone out and draw out everyone's contribution since some team members may be inherently more risk averse to sharing their views and ideas. 

This leadership style can suffer and not be as helpful an approach if the crew involved isn’t coordinated and has either little time or experience. While brainstorms can sometimes be helpful, these sessions assume that people have a real potential to contribute something of value to the group. During times of crisis, it may be impossible to be a democratic leader. That's because sometimes hearing everyone out is actually a waste of time if someone's expertise or actions can solve something more directly and efficiently.

The Pacesetting Manager

The Pacesetting management style belongs to the type of person who is setting the pace for the rest of the team. In other words, this person is driven to accomplish tasks according to a very high standard and is extremely goal focused.  They may delegate less than other types of managers and lead by example and like to get their hands dirty with work, rather than manage. They may expect excellence and self-direction from the members of their team and that their colleagues follow their own example through their similar behavior and actions.

This pacesetting method works great when the team is very motivated and they’ve got the expertise already! Moreover, if you don't require a lot of inter-depencies and parallel work rather than constant collaboration is necessary, then you can have the manager set the tone and pace of work and everyone can follow suit rather easily.

When this management style doesn’t work nearly as well is when you have a team that needs assistance from others in order to achieve their goals, or when development or coaching is needed. Moreover, the pace a high-achieving manager sets may not be realistic for everyone on the team and people can get burned out trying to keep up. After all, you can work hard and endlessly but if you don't know how to best accomplish something, that pacesetting can evolve into frustrated efforts that aren't productive. And that resembles more face time than truly valuable time spent on a project or set of tasks.

The Coaching Management Style

A manager with a Coaching approach focuses on the long term development of their employees. This type of person helps and encourages their employees to develop their strengths and improve. The focus is always creating opportunities for professional development.

This can be great when there’s a true need to grow and it benefits the work at hand that the employee grow professionally. When employees are truly in need of instruction and training, they appreciate and have high job satisfaction if they feel their manager is investing in them. However, this requires the manager to actually have expertise, of course and to genuinely care and be good at teaching others. 

The coaching management style may not be nearly as helpful when the manager tends to coach instead of having tough conversations with someone who is struggling, or an employee is not actually interested in learning but requires discipline and/or focus that can't be improved by teaching. Other times, coaching managers may end up inadvertently playing favorites or seeming to lavish attention on certain employees who either seek out coaching or are perceived to need it.

While coaching is generally considered a good quality for a leader, in certain circumstnaces a good manager needs to focus more on pure execution and actions to help get the job done, rather than invest in extensive personality development for individuals on their team. 

These six leadership styles are not aboslute and rarely is one person only one archetypal type of manager. Understanding what type of personality and leadership you gravitate towards can help you moderate or modify your behavior and tendencies for different situations and circumstances. Moreover, it may help you understand why you work better with certain management types than others. 

Hopefully it is clear that there is no one type of manager or management style that works under all scenarios for all people. Moreover, even if you naturally have some personality tendencies as a manager, very few of us are cariactures of these six management styles and hew our behavior exactly to the category specification. It should be clear that sometimes managers really will have to go against their natural work style and default tendencies.

At the end of the day, most managers have to wear many hats. Needless to say, we all have individualized decision-making processes. It can be a difficult job to manage and motivate people while accomplishing a business objective or solving a problem at work. Adapting approaches or management styles from one situation to the next, even with different groups of people, tailored to getting the best performance under the circumstances is certainly challenging.

Mastering the different leadership styles and skills to adopt different management styles can go a very long way to push, motivate and support a successful team and to ultimately be an effective leader. That's why it can be well worth the effort to practice and study these management styles!


Kelly is a human resources pro and coach who helps people find and achieve what they want career-wise and beyond. Coaching, training, recruiting – if you name it in the world of HR, she's done it in a variety of industries. Her advice has been featured on The Muse, Career Contessa, Levo, Workology, among others. Learn more by scoping her out at


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