Management style – Does one size fit all?

Many views create confusion

What is striking is that there are so many views on how a manager should behave. This makes it extremely difficult, for any mere mortal to know how best to act when there are so many conflicting perspectives and opinions. This diversity of view does tell us about one of the challenges that any manager faces, which is that they have to be good at working with the ambiguity that comes from that diversity and the uncertainty that is presented in an ever changing world. Managers who favor certainty and clarity will be challenged, as they are asked to engage with external environments that present ever increasing levels of incertitude.

People will react differently to disparate management styles

As a manager, you will be working in an internal context where followers will have a preference in the way that they want to be led. People want to be governed in a way that is in alignment with their values. Each business area will have it’s own peculiarities, however, it is likely to be a microcosm or an isomorphic representation of the organisation as a whole, a reflection of the overriding culture. Although, we often understand the value of diversity, most organisations favor homogeneity and a formal hierarchal structure.

So the question is, do different types of workforces need different types of managers? Do our differing views on effective management merely reflect the differing types of working environments? One thing is for sure, a managers success is not guaranteed in another context. In fact, the strengths that a manager espouses through personal experience and achievement may very well be a weakness in new organisational context.

New evolving workforces

How do you lead a workforce whose value set is centered on collaboration, consensus and a preference for openness and inner exploration. Granted, as yet, there are a limited number of these types of workforces (in fact they would react negatively to the word ‘force’ in workforce) but they would push back against a manager who favored an authoritative and directive style of management. Command and control managers enjoy status; however, a collaborative styled employee is not impressed with ones standing, to them, everybody is equal.

Even worse, a directive manager who favors control and rigid hierarchy would be completely out of step with a workforce that was free thinking, creative and interdependent. This would be a lost opportunity, because, in the new creative economy, companies that create an environment of zeal, creativity and one where employees proactively spot and seize opportunities will win the day. This type of workforce does not respond to directions and authority, it opens up to peer to peer relationships (informal networks), freedom and autonomy. These are the qualities that can help engender and cultivate a passionate and innovative workforce.

The old industrial model – compliance

Although compliance and industry are admirable traits and have their place in organisations, they are not the foremost qualities needed for the 21st century creative economy. These traits probably stifle creativity and innovation. To succeed a company has to continually reinvent itself, be agile and to innovate.

The challenge is that a number of workforces are probably compliant, and although there will be a large number of independent achievers trapped within its structure, it will also be true that a number of workers in this environment favor being submissive and seek out more traditional, rigid and hierarchal structures. Compliant followers are looking for certainty, direction, rules and strong boundaries. In this environment a directive, command and control manager will probably work extremely well. He/she likes to direct and the conformers like to submit. Fine, this type of workforce is in synch, there is harmony of sorts (not collaborative harmony), however, it is not one that is going to ‘set the world on fire’. This company is certainly not going to be the next Apple, its stuck in the old industrial model.

The new breed of manager

To move a compliant workforce to one that is creative takes a certain type of manager. This is a pioneering individual who has moved through the recognised stages of development – dependence to independence through to interdependence.

They have developed a large conceptual space (wisdom rather than intelligence), so they can deal with ambiguity, to even welcome it. They flourish in uncertainty and are stimulated by complexity. They have cultivated the courage to explore their own inner world, to be fascinated by its marvels and to face their own shadow head on, so unlike most managers they are less likely to get trapped in ego defensiveness. This enables them to be transparent, open and unafraid to confront the brutal truth, the facts and the reality of any situation no matter how disconcerting. The conclusions they draw are not tainted by ideological bias.

They can be consensual and encourage others to be so, but, because they have witnessed and recorded their own journey, they can be directive where necessary and to provide clarity and focus for those who need direction. They coach and support others on their own journey, from being an apathetic victim to finding a sense of belonging. They help others to break free of conformity, to help them develop their centre, to be self reliant and to help people find flow and self actualization and to realise the power of collaboration and networks. As a manager, they have come to recognise the power of vulnerability, to be self-sacrificing and to take a holistic systems perspective.

Mark Hawkswell

Mark is an independant consultant, who specialises in organisational and leadership development. He has collaborated with Future Vision for the last 10 years, creating a range of leadership, customer service and sales programmes for a broad mix of clients in both public and private sectors.  If you would like to discuss your leadership challenges please email Mark for a free consultation.

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