Growing up, a few of my baseball coaches were some of the most ruthless and demanding people I’ve ever met. They used fear to push my team to our physical and emotional limits, intimidated us with cruel ultimatums, and didn’t really seem to care about us as people. They did everything they could to win — and punished us when we didn’t.
When I started doing internships in college, I expected my managers to be just like my coaches. Since businesses actually have to make money, and not just win a few games, I was scared to mess up.
But at the end of my last internship, I realized I’ve never really felt afraid to fail in the working world because my managers were the complete opposite of my coaches. They were patient, understanding, and, most of all, nice. It seemed like they cared about me just as much as they cared about their job, even though there’s a lot more at stake in the office than on a high school baseball field.
Although my managers have treated me well, there are still managers out there who are just like some of my baseball coaches: fear-mongering, intimidating, and mean. These tactics might produce short-term results, but, in the long-term, all they lead to are unhappy employees, underwhelming results, and a high turnover rate.
You don’t want to be a jerk at work, especially if you’re a manager, so check out this overview of the best leadership styles to adopt — and the worst ones to avoid.
1. Visionary Management Style
A visionary manager communicates a purpose and direction that her employees believe in, which convinces her team to work hard to execute her vision.
After setting their team’s vision and overarching strategy, visionary managers usually let their employees get to work on their own terms, as long as they’re productive. Managers will mainly check in on their team to make sure they’re on the right track or to share new insights.
This gives their employees a great sense of autonomy, which all managers need to provide — after all, self-direction is a basic psychological need. When humans work on tasks that they have more control over, they feel more satisfied and motivated to complete them. Letting their employees' personal motivations determine the direction of their work is the best way for managers to boost their team's engagement and confidence.
Visionary managers are also known to be firm yet fair. Their vision is usually set in place, but they’re always open to listening to their employees’ ideas and willing to change their plan if a great idea is presented.
To better execute their vision, visionary managers give a lot of feedback to their employees about their performance and praise them when their performance meets or exceeds expectations.
This type of management style is hard to pull off, though. It’s crucial that you sell your employees on the purpose of your vision before you expect them to execute it. If you don’t, they won’t be inspired to turn your vision into a reality.
Example of the Visionary Leadership Style in Action: Elon Musk
It takes a clear vision and persistent leader like Elon Musk to transform a company like Tesla into the tech giant it is today. While some may mock the CEO’s cryptocurrency hobby and scoff at his larger-than-life plans to send everyday people to space, there’s no denying that his visionary leadership style has impacted not only his employees but the global community.
2. Democratic Management Style
In democratic management, the majority rules. Managers let their employees participate in the decision-making process because they value their team’s diversity of ideas, and understand that people are the key to a team’s success.
Democratic managers ultimately approve of all decisions, but since their employees are so involved in the decision-making process, their team has a lot of influence in their manager’s decision.
Employees are so heavily involved in the decision-making process because managers know it makes their team feel valued, boosts their morale, and forges a healthy, trusting relationship between the two. It also makes it easier for managers to convince their employees to buy into a team’s vision — after all, they’re executing a plan that they’ve created together.
Many employees like this leadership style because their managers trust them with a lot of responsibility and real work, which lets them use their skills to their full potential.
But when executed poorly, a democratic management style can be inefficient. Managers who keep mulling over a decision even after consulting their whole team about it can slow down progress. And if you want your employees to feel like they’re all leaders of your team, you need to make sure they’re helping you make progress. Or else they might start thinking you're just making empty promises.
Example of the Democratic Leadership Style in Action: Judy Vredenburgh
Judy Vredenburgh is a democratic-style leader and President and CEO of Girls Inc., a nonprofit that inspires young women to be their best selves. Because this NGO relies on its board of directors, volunteers, and members to achieve its mission, it’s critical that she carries out her responsibilities in a way that is fair, equitable, and proves that the organization’s leadership and staff are good stewards of the donated resources that Girls Inc. receives.
3. Transformational Management Style
Transformational managers’ are innovators. They usually believe change and growth is the only way to stay ahead of the curve, so they push their employees past their comfort zone, making them realize they’re more capable than they originally thought. This motivates employees to keep raising the bar, leading to improved team performance.
Employees led by transformational managers are usually more dedicated and happy — their managers constantly challenge them and motivate them with the idea that they can reach their potential if they just keep pushing themselves. These managers are also right by their employees’ side, doing whatever they can to help them get better and succeed.
These teams are innovative, so they can adapt to drastic industry changes. But they can also risk moving too fast and spreading themselves thin. Constantly challenging the status quo is crucial for innovation and staying ahead of the curve, but, as a manager of people, it’s important to know how far you can push each of your employees before they start burning out.
Example of the Transformational Leadership Style in Action: Brian Halligan & Dharmesh Shah
You know HubSpot as the powerhouse CRM tool that supports marketing, sales, service, and ops teams in scaling and enterprise businesses, but the company wasn’t always this way. In 2006, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah identified an issue with the way companies were generating leads. Outbound marketing simply wasn’t creating remarkable customer experiences.
Rather than finding a new way to bombard people with advertisements, the two created a platform that would bring customers to the companies that had solutions to their problems. Thus, “inbound marketing” became a corporate war room name, thanks to Halligan’s and Shah’s transformational leadership approach.
4. Coaching Management Style
Just like a sports coach, a coaching manager strives to improve their employees’ long-term professional development. They have a passion for teaching and watching their employees grow. And they’re more patient with short-term failure, as long as the team learns and improves as a result.
Coaching managers motivate their employees with professional development opportunities, like a promotion or more responsibility — these rewards make employees hungry for knowledge, and their steady development improves the team’s performance.
By constantly teaching their employees new things and offering career opportunities, coaches can build strong bonds with their employees. But doing this could also create a cutthroat environment that’s toxic for their team's relations.
Leaders with a coaching style have two main focuses: overseeing employees’ individual development and bringing your team together. The best teams are the most united teams, and an employee experiences the most professional growth when both their coach and teammates invest in their development.
Example of the Coaching Leadership Style in Action: Bozoma Saint John
When it comes to trailblazing a path for women of color to become leaders in the workplace, Bozoma Saint John truly shows up. As Netflix’s current CMO, she leverages her position as a tech executive to coach other women on their path toward professional success. Through authentic storytelling, Bozoma reaches her team and the greater tech industry with her visible and motivating leadership style.
1. Autocratic Management Style
Autocratic management is the most top-down approach to management — employees at the top of the hierarchy hold all the power, making decisions without collaborating or informing their subordinates. After the leader delegates action items, they expect immediate acceptance and execution from their subordinates, with no questions asked.
If one of their employees doesn’t follow orders, they’ll punish them by chewing them out or threatening their job. They’ll even publically humiliate them in front of their peers if they really want to make a statement to their team. Fear, guilt, and shame are an autocratic manager’s main weapons of motivation.
Autocratic managers are also the ultimate micromanagers — they police their employees every move to make sure they’re obedient, allowing little to no flexibility at work. Employees do what they’re told, and managers don’t want to hear their feedback. They see their conduct as a means to end for great financial success.
Teams and companies led by autocratic managers don’t usually reach great financial success because they can’t innovate. The same few minds call the shots which leads to groupthink and a stagnant ideation process. If they won’t let their employees, who have many different perspectives than them, share their new and possibly breakthrough ideas, then they’ll only leverage the same strategies that they’ve always been comfortable with.
The autocratic management style allows managers to make decisions extremely fast, but employees hate working under it. It’s also one of the most ineffective management styles: underdeveloped employees feel overwhelmed — they won’t get any help — and the most skilled employees can’t let their talents shine in such a rigid environment. Everyone’s professional growth is stunted.
Another problem with autocratic managers is that they don’t try to convince their employees to buy into their vision. Instead, they force them to do it. Even though coercion might work in the short-term, it won’t last in the long-term. No one likes to be controlled. And if people don’t know why they’re supporting the company’s vision, morale will plummet, leading to low-quality work and a high turnover rate.
The only time this management style is effective is when it’s temporary. For example, an organization might experience a crisis situation and needs to make important decisions — fast.
2. Servant Management Style
Servant managers put people first and tasks second. They prioritize their employees’ well-being over their team’s results, so they can foster a harmonious relationship with their employees and keep them as happy as possible. They do everything they can to support and encourage their team, and, in return, they expect their employees to be motivated to work hard.
But since servant managers don’t prioritize performance and avoid confronting their employees, even when they do a lackluster job, there’s no pressure to succeed. This can make employees complacent, leading to average or even sub-par work.
Servant managers also might spend too much time on team bonding rather than work, which could frustrate employees who are goal-oriented. They’ll feel like they can’t perform to their full potential because they have to spend a bunch of time doing trust falls.
3. Laissez-Faire Management Style
Laissez-faire managers monitor their team’s activities, but they’re completely hands-off — they expect their team to perform up to a certain level even though they don’t proactively help or check-in with their employees.
Employees led by laissez-faire managers hold all the decision-making authority, working on whatever they want with minimal to no intervention — which is a nice perk. They can also seek their manager’s guidance when they need help.
But most of the time, the team barely has any guidance or vision. Employees might feel pulled in every direction, so they can’t accomplish anything worthwhile. This is the least desirable and effective management style because, without any guidance or vision, most employees feel neglected.
4. Transactional Management Style
Transactional managers use incentives and rewards — like bonuses and stock options — to motivate their employees to carry out their commands. Their motto is “If you do this for me, I’ll do this for you.”
But psychological research tells us that extrinsic motivation, like financial rewards, wears off in the long-term and could even diminish your team’s intrinsic motivation to succeed at work.
After a while, rewarding intrinsically motivated employees with external incentives will trigger a self-perception loop. Employees will base their attitudes about their motivation at work off their behavior at work — making them think they were motivated to succeed because their manager rewarded them with some stock options and not because they had a passion for the team’s mission.
Intrinsic motivation is a stronger motivator than extrinsic motivation because the former is a better indicator for producing quality work, while the latter is a better indicator for producing a higher quantity of work.
Effective Management Styles for a Thriving Team
Management is one of the hardest jobs in the working world. There’s a reason why we’ve all had at least one terrible boss, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Now that you know the four leadership styles to adopt and which ones to avoid, you’ll be better equipped to lead your team through challenging and successful times.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in July 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.