I’ve had occasion to watch managers in action over my career. I think we can all agree that managers display many different styles, from completely hands-off to overly involved, and somewhere in between. What is most interesting for me as an HR practitioner is to monitor the impact the varying styles have on employees.

When I say “management style,” I’m referring to the way a manager makes decisions relating to their subordinates. The wrong management style demotivates employees, kills productivity, and causes employees to disengage and leave.

One successful management style is known as the “democratic” manager. These managers are high in openness, have a great degree of intellectual curiosity, preferring a diversity of ideas. They are imaginative, and open to feedback and ideas from their team. One way to measure impact is through the annual employee engagement survey. Generally speaking, good managers seem to yield the best results; employees enjoy the relationship they have with their immediate manager, feel their manager communicates well, fosters teamwork, and challenges them appropriately. Most importantly, these employees are less likely to leave the organization. Likely, the democratic manager will see these positive results.

When I set out to write this article, the premise was to highlight how the hands-off manager and the overly-active manager seem to produce the same result. In one case, the hands-off manager lacks accountability for the behavior from the team. You might call this the “seagull” manager, only choosing to become involved when things go wrong. Under this management style, the employees are guilty of creating a toxic work environment by acquiescing to the dominant “bullies,” promoting rumors and gossip, and a culture of blaming. Interestingly, the same employees that are creating this toxicity are waiting for the manager to do something to fix things. The manager has responded by complaining about the dynamic and noxious behavior of the team, but does not take a stand, to demand that it cease. By the manager, or the employees themselves, doing nothing, this team has experienced low engagement, inconsistent teamwork, and steady turnover. The team does not value their relationship with this manager, and feels the manager is uninvolved.

In the case of the overly-active manager, this manager seems to react to each and every situation that arises. This manager has a commanding and controlling management style: managers order, employees obey. Disobedient employees are punished. I’ve heard many times claims of insubordination and seen many times warning letters written without due process. These managers tend to be less candid and trusting; creating an environment of fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Fear, guilt, and shame are tools to scare the team into compliance. There are many examples of emails blasted out to the entire team after one team member makes a mistake. Many examples of explosive conversations in the heat of the moment that hours later end up in remorse and apology. Not only do the team supervisors not trust this leader, they do not trust each other. The line staff see, hear, and feel what is happening but are fearful to speak up. Unfortunately, for this team, the manager feels a need to do something all the time. Often times, these knee-jerk actions are the wrong ones, resulting in low team morale and very high turnover rates that are off the charts.

It was in conversation with another colleague that led me to the realization that managers that do nothing are just as bad as those that do too much of the wrong things. In reviewing key indicators of high performing teams, managers that skew towards the democratic style are seeing better productivity, better retention, and overall better results.

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Author Profile

Richard Finger
Richard Finger
Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.