People don't always stop to think about the question of the precise role and purpose of a manager. They think it's obvious, so they don't bother to articulate it, or even to think about it much.
Actually, though, if you ask most managers, they'd be unlikely to zero in on the one thing that should in fact be guiding their thinking as managers:
The role of a manager is to maximize the performance of the people who report to him or her, in order best to achieve the objectives of the organization.
Take a close look at the preceding statement, and think about its implications. What does it say about how managers should conduct themselves, and about management style?
Many managers, especially new ones, take the position that they're the boss and that it's up to their employees to adapt themselves to the manager's preferred way of doing things; that managers have their own styles and preferences, and everyone needs to adapt accordingly.
But how likely is that approach to lead to optimal performance on the part of employees? For example, if a certain employee does excellent work by organizing the work on his or her own, does it really make sense for a manager to step in and tell the employee to organize it some other way; the way in which the manager used to do it before becoming a manager? Is this likely to produce the best work of which that employee is capable? Will it motivate that employee and increase loyalty? In a case like this, it makes more sense for the manager to adapt to the employee, rather than the other way around.
Understanding the various management styles is crucially important to managerial success because it allows the thoughtful manager to choose the right style for each employee, circumstance, type of work, and environment. If you are to maximize your effectiveness as a manager, you must be able to apply the appropriate managerial approach in each situation.
Your key task is to develop the ability to adapt your style to the nature of the employee and the situation.
There's another reason why style matters: it goes a long way toward determining the atmosphere of your office and the way employees interact and communicate with you. Your style says a lot about how you view your employees and what you expect of them, and will do much to shape their perceptions of you.
Management styles have several aspects. Some academic taxonomies of management styles get very complicated by mixing up the different elements in various combinations and giving each combination an abstruse name, but it's best to think of management styles in terms of their various elements, and then to combine the elements yourself.
When managing any employee or situation, you should always be thinking of all of these elements.
The most important elements of management style, and the ones that will do the most to define your approach in the eyes of others, are the two axes of:
Direction versus Consultation
Control versus Autonomy
The direction/consultation axis refers to the extent to which you keep decision-making to yourself and the extent to which you invite input from others.
The control/autonomy axis refers to the extent to which you determine how people should do their jobs and the extent to which you allow them to choose their own approach.
The amount of guidance you provide your employees is another key element of management style. Guidance comes in three main forms:
Coaching refers to the formal steps you take to develop an employee's skills in certain areas. These could be hard job skills, or soft skills such as communication or interpersonal skills.
Mentoring is a broader process, usually informal but sometimes formalized, whereby a more senior employee helps a less senior employee advance his or her career in various ways.
Support refers to steps you take less formally to help an employee along. These can include dealing with concrete issues, such as addressing obstacles that may have been created by other areas of the company and that make it difficult for your employee to get the work done, and softer issues, such as a lack of confidence on the part of the employee.
The final main element of management style is orientation. This is the extent to which you manage in the interests of the organization as opposed to those of the employee. Although it may sound obvious that you are hired to serve the needs of the organization, dealing with people is never that simple.
The key point about these various styles—and if you take one thing away from this book, make it this—is that it's crucial for you to develop the ability to adapt the approach you take, depending on the circumstances. Different people, with different personalities and different levels of experience need to be managed in different ways; and different types of work, done in different types of companies or other institutions, also requires different approaches.
Make a note
Being able to adapt your management style to suit the people you're working with and the circumstances in which you're working with them is a core management skill. Developing this skill will be crucial to your success.
This point is especially true in today's world, where highly educated knowledge workers, and young people raised on social media, will not mesh well with a rigid and inflexible managerial style.
It's also important to understand that the management styles mentioned above are not rigid "either/or" choices. Each one is, in general, a spectrum. For example, when you're looking at the direction/consultation axis, you don't decide which of those two poles you're going to choose; you decide where on a continuum you're going to come down.
Direction –––––––––––––––––––––––– Consultation
You may choose to be highly directive, or highly consultative; but you may also choose to be a bit of both. You can approach a given person or situation from any point on the spectrum.
In the case of coaching and support, the spectrum is more a question of degree; you may offer a given employee a lot of coaching, or you may offer very little. As always, it's a question of adapting appropriately to circumstances.
No coaching –––––––––––––––––––––––– Lots of coaching
Like the two axes, orientation is a spectrum; you'll continually be moving back and forth along a continuum between the interests of the employee and those of the organization.
Employee –––––––––––––––––––––––– Organization
One final point before we start to dig into the meat and potatoes. It's worthwhile to make a distinction between managing work and managing people. Managing work is actually pretty easy; it's mostly a question of being organized and of keeping on top of deadlines. In today's environment, though, you rarely have the luxury of simply managing work; you have to manage people as well. Managers who step into a management role thinking that it's just a question of getting the work done are riding for a fall; you have to be prepared to deal with the people side of things as well.
Incidentally, this is a mistake that people sometimes make when they're hiring: they hire someone who's really good at getting work done, thinking that this is a qualification for management. But the hard part of management is dealing with people. Never forget that. (By the way, sometimes people make the opposite mistake as well: they hire someone with people skills who's no good at the work. Needless to say, that doesn't work either.)
Let's talk about two employees who work in our organization, Dave and Rhonda.
Rhonda is a recent recruit, fresh out of university. She has a liberal arts degree, and she has a bit of work experience from when she was a student. She did three work terms in various types of office, including one that was pretty similar to ours; and during her class terms she worked as a waitress in a restaurant and behind the counter at a coffee bar. She also volunteered in the University library and with disadvantaged children.
Dave is in his early fifties, and is a senior engineer. He has been with our firm for 26 years. Although he is considered highly skilled and competent by both his colleagues and his superiors, he has never expressed any interest in management, and the higher-ups also see him more as an individual contributor than as a manager. Although his interpersonal skills are perfectly satisfactory for doing his job, he doesn't consider himself to be much of a "people person", and he's not hugely interested in the people side of the job, or of anything else for that matter.
As you progress through this book, Dave and Rhonda will appear in various situations and contexts, and you will be asked to think about how you, as their manager, should respond. Although there are no absolutely right answers for this sort of thing, some suggestions as to how you might want to act will be provided at the end of each chapter.
In this chapter, you have:
Considered the nature of the manager's role
Learned about the key role management style plays in determining the success of you and your team
Considered the importance of adaptability
Distinguished between managing work and managing people
Met our two case study employees, Dave and Rhonda
Now let's take a closer look at the first element of management style, the direction/consultation axis.