What Is Management Style?

The question: “What is management style?” can be answered in different ways. Traditionally, we have focused on how the manager relates to subordinates when we consider this issue. Leadership style is just another way of talking about the same subject. The question of style is meant to address the issue of how best to motivate employees to do what the manager wants them to do. Clearly, the most effective management style is the one that gets the most productivity out of all employees.

Here is a new slant on how effective managers behave. Some managers have a very proactive style. They plan ahead. Others are typically reactive. They don’t care if they don’t anticipate problems. They are happy to improvise. Managers can also be supportive or punitive in how they treat employees. The best managers are proactive and supportive. Reactive managers don’t really manage at all.

The Reactive Management Style

This style is very common. Such managers are often punitive as well. Reactive managers don’t really enjoy the management process. They got promoted by being functional experts. In management they still want to do what they most enjoy doing – devise expert solutions. They may hold regular meetings on a proactive basis, but they want competent subordinates who can get on with their work without bothering them. However, they want subordinates to come to them if they have a problem.

The Punitive Reactive Manager

No one likes to hear about problems. Reactive managers with a punitive style don’t mean to be mean. They just get annoyed when they hear that a project might be off the rails. They may not even lose their temper but their irritation is still visible in their tone of voice and body language. Their immediate priority is to fix the problem. They convey the message that they hope their subordinates have learned from their mistake and won’t let it happen again. This is punitive: it instills a fear of failure in team members and makes them hesitate to inform managers about problems in future. A punitive style increases the likelihood of further errors and an early departure from the company.

The Reactive Supportive Manager

Reactive supportive managers also want subordinates to operate independently. But when problems are brought to them, they behave like a coach, a sounding board and a helper or enabler. They help subordinates see what went well, commend them for good efforts and help them learn from their mistakes in an encouraging manner. But this is still not the most effective management style. Management is like investment. To manage resources invested, it is imperative to prevent errors before they happen. This means being proactive.

The Proactive Punitive Manager

Such managers meet with staff frequently. They have such a fear of failure that their anxiety to avoid error is punitively communicated to their teams. They are always asking questions about progress in a tone that creates fear in their teams and motivates them to hide mistakes if possible.

The Proactive Supportive Manager

These managers also hold regular meetings but staff are asked to talk about what has gone well since the last meeting before the discussion moves on to problems. Issues are anticipated and avoided by cultivating an atmosphere of safety and openness. Positive feedback that is genuinely felt is offered and employees are encouraged to think of solutions to problems in a supportive, coaching manner.

Naturally proactive supportive managers deal firmly with serious performance problems but they are more effective than the other styles because they cultivate a positive team spirit.