Should you learn a flexible management style?
You’re a “hands-off” kind of manager. You typically place a lot of trust in your employees and rely on them to deliver. But on this latest project, you’re rapidly becoming aware that what you’ve been doing for years suddenly isn’t working. Your most junior employee keeps asking for your approval, and even your more seasoned workers seem more insecure than normal.
Of course, you start to ask yourself, “What’s going on?”
What’s most likely happening is that for some reason, your usual management style isn’t effective with this team, on this project, or both. Now, before you start to panic and think you have to unlearn everything you know, relax. Think about it: you’re unique. So are your employees and any contingent workers you have on the team. What’s more, every project has unique demands. Knowing this, don’t you think it’s logical that different situations can call for different management styles? Or that you might even need to employ distinct management styles for your individual employees?
According to Margaret Rouse in the TechTarget article “Situational leadership,” back in the mid 1960s, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard developed the so-called “situational leadership” theory. Briefly put, this hypothesizes that individual employees respond differently to different leadership styles. More recently, the term “flexible leadership” is being used to also include the practice of varying management styles according to work environment and challenges.
Learning a flexible management style requires the ability to examine the situation objectively in order to determine what isn’t working. It also requires a good understanding of the various management styles you can employ to improve your results. Clearly, if you’re not getting the best out of your team, the first thing to do is determine why not. You need to pinpoint exactly where your usual style is causing problems and why. In the example at the beginning of this article, your hands-off approach isn’t working. And while it’s understandable that a junior employee might want more guidance, something else must be going on for your other employees to be insecure. Are you missing a core member of your team, someone who usually pulls everyone together? In this case, you probably want to adopt a more collaborative management style to encourage the team to work together to find solutions. Or is this project totally unlike any your team has done before, with new tools and high stakes? Then you could use elements from both the collaborative and the micro-manager styles, and slowly phase out the micro-managing as your people become more confident.
Learning a flexible management style involves developing strategies for objectively assessing how effective you are and estimating what management style or combination of styles will enhance that efficacy. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have one style that’s more or less your default; but it does allow you to develop stronger management muscles that can see you through every challenging situation. And by showing your company’s leadership you can get great results with a diverse group of people and in a range of situations, your chances of career advancement greatly increase.
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