I’ve written before about how to engage in authentic leadership. One of the key pieces of cultivating authenticity is ensuring that you’re working from a place of relative comfort and not behaving in ways that go against your values and tendencies. You can’t be an authentic leader, or even an authentic participant, unless your actions and decisions are in line with who you are.
Now, I’d like to explore the main management styles available to startup founders, as well as how to determine which style is best for you, based on your own personality and values, while also taking into account your team dynamics and situational needs.
We often hear that management is about tasks, and leadership is about people. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, especially in the world of entrepreneurship. In a small, scrappy startup that only employs a handful to a dozen people, management responsibilities often fall to the leaders and vice versa. Plus, in reality, management is never not about people, because even if your deliverables are task-related, you need to be able to guide, support, and engage the people on your team to get those things accomplished.
Effective leadership and management come in a variety of styles. Though you may sometimes see management styles broken down into just 4 categories, and other times as many as 10, I’ve chosen to focus on the 6 defined and described by Hay-McBer. Here’s a quick look at each:
- Directive/Coercive – This is a rigid top-down management style, which can best be summed up as following a “do what I say” mindset. Directive/coercive managers don’t take a lot of input on board or leave much room for collaboration, brainstorming, or team-lead direction. This manager is what you envision when you think of a stereotypical “boss” figure handing out assignments and confines within which you’re to complete them. Their motivation strategy is fear-based, instead of incentive-based.
- Authoritative/Visionary – Not to be confused with “authoritarian” (which better fits the directive/coercive style), authoritative managers are those who play the role of visionaries and set the tone for the team and individual members. They trade largely in the currency of their expertise, which lends them credibility. They command a high level of respect — based on who they are, how they behave, and their experience — in order to inspire others to get on board. They motivate through persuasion and feedback, instead of fear of consequences, and communicate clearly when it comes to expectations and instructions.
- Affiliative – For this kind of manager, people always come first. The happiness and fulfillment of their employees, along with team cohesion and unity, are their top priorities. These managers strive to avoid conflict and motivate others by making sure they’re happy and engaged. They’re likely to check in with their teams a lot, adjust workloads based on what might be going on in the personal lives of their employees or to lessen the potential for burnout, and work hard to ensure there is no interpersonal drama.
- Participative – This manager strives to make decisions and set goals democratically. They encourage and allow their team members to take an active role in decision-making. They listen and consider ideas from everyone. Participative managers also recognize and reward team effort. With this style, team members tend to feel more heard, and therefore more invested in the outcomes, and driven to work with their teammates to produce great results.
- Pacesetting – This management style can be described as “watch what I do and how I do it, then do the same yourself”, or modeling. This manager gets very involved and rolls up their sleeves to start the ball rolling on many of the tasks the team needs to complete, then expects their team members to pick up where they left off. Because this manager does a lot of the work themselves, their standards and expectations for their employees can be very high.
- Coaching – Managers who fall into this style are highly focused on the professional development of their employees. Like the affiliative style, they’re more focused on the people than the tasks. A big part of this manager’s scope involves mentoring employees and helping them grow in their roles and careers through new tasks, projects, and skills. A coaching manager has to be a highly experienced — an expert in their field — so that they can see the possibilities for their employees, as well as what might best suit them.
Chances are you naturally tend more toward one or two of these styles than the others, based on your personality, values, and other factors in your own life and career. You may already know it just by reading the short descriptions above. But if you need a little help sussing it out, a simple personality test or two can help.
One popular test that can offer insights into both your personal and professional life is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which measures your tendencies and preferences for how you interact with the world, process information, and make decisions. Through a series of questions, it measures your level of introversion vs. extraversion; sensing vs intuition; feeling vs thinking; perceiving vs judging and places you in one of 16 personality types.
Based on how you score in each of the 4 components, you can start to understand what management style might best fit your innate leanings, or how you can play to your strengths to improve upon what you’re already doing. For instance, someone who scores much higher on the judging end of the spectrum, preferring to have a set plan and stick with it, may be more inclined toward the directive, pacesetting, or authoritative management styles. Whereas someone who scores higher on the perceiving side of that dichotomy — indicating more of an ability toward openness and taking on board new information as situations develop — might be more inclined toward the participative style. Someone who is more feeling-oriented than thinking-oriented is likely to be better suited toward the affiliative style, because team harmony and interpersonal interactions are likely important to them.
Aside from MBTI, there are other personality tests you can take to gain insights into your leadership style. The Enneagram is another framework for identifying your core strengths, leanings, and pitfalls. Once you’ve found out your Enneagram type, you can learn about its implications for leadership.
But, wait! Before you lose dozens of hours down the rabbit hole of personality measurements, it’s important to realize that your leadership style is not 100% about you. You must consider the needs and nature of your team, the tasks at hand, and adapt to whatever challenges arise. Your go-to management style and strategies may not be the best options for all situations.
For example, being a pacesetting manager requires that your team is highly skilled and able to quickly pick up where you leave off on a project or task. If you’re working with entry-level employees and expecting them to do work that requires years of knowledge and background in a field, which you have and they don’t, it could be a disaster. If everyone on your team is knowledgeable and skilled enough to bring solid ideas and frameworks to the discussion, the participative style, which involves everyone in decision-making, would work well.
You may also have to vary your management style based on individual employees, since their personality quirks and differences might mean they respond better to certain methods than others. For an employee who’s struggling with burnout or lack of motivation, you may need to go into affiliative mode to figure out what the problem is and what can be done about it. For someone who is full of great ideas and eager to contribute, a participative approach might work best. A team member who needs to be inspired by the big picture and larger goals might need you to bring in qualities of the authoritative/visionary manager when you work with them one-on-one.
One final thing to consider, is that some of the 6 styles can negatively impact employee productivity, satisfaction, and workplace dynamic, while others have a generally positive outcome. You may have already guessed, but the directive/coercive style (aka: “Do what I tell you to do, because I said so, or else!”) can make employees feel unheard, undervalued, and generally put a damper on creativity and positive contributions. I would only recommend it in very specific circumstances. In a crisis situation, you may need to tell employees to perform specific tasks in specific ways — especially if they’re less experienced or newer — for the sake of resolving the problem quickly and efficiently. It’s just not a good idea to run your team this way all the time.
Similarly, the Pacesetting style may hold employees back from the unique contributions they can bring to the table, because you’re locking them into doing things as you do them. This can also make the environment more negative over time. However, if you have employees in a time crunch or a pinch, you may need to start a project or task, model how it should be handled, then let your employees see it through to completion in that set way. But I wouldn’t handle all projects and tasks this way, because stifling autonomy and decision-making ends up hurting more than it helps.