What’s your style? Take an honest look

Posted on Written by Mary Elston
Mary Elston

“Don’t touch the iPad with your sticky fingers.” That’s the comment I heard from a nearby parent as his young family finished their Sunday brunch. I had to smile. As my two grown sons sat next to me at our table, I remembered a time when micromanaging the kids’ sticky fingers was part of my daily routine.

IPads weren’t the issue — more like Nintendo — but I digress. When it comes to parenting styles, the right dose of micromanagement at the right time is part of helping children grow and mature. What about management styles? Are you a micromanager, or do you manage your business or team with another style? Better yet, what do you think your style is, compared with what your employees might say your style is?

Even if you see yourself as an excellent manager because you’ve been “doing it for years,” the finest managers usually are those who constantly augment their skills while practicing the complex art of guiding, supporting and encouraging the productivity of others.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at three high-level management styles. While we’re at it, peel your self-perspective down to a layer of raw honesty and consider which style best describes how you manage your group.

Management style No. 1: “In your face”: This is the dreaded micromanager. The majority of us avoid the in-your-face manager like a raging migraine. Why? They treat us like children, don’t value the knowledge and skills we bring to the table and, what’s equally appalling but not surprising, is that they don’t care. The in-your-face manager often uses fear to gain authority, frequently handling employees with disrespect and discourtesy.

There are very few places where this works well. No wonder the in-your-face micromanager is repeatedly considered the most annoying to work for. Most of us have reported to a micromanager during our careers and have quickly found a way to either get around them or get away from them.

Are you a micromanager and don’t know it? Do people avoid working in your group? I knew a manager whose in-your-face style was extremely frustrating for the highly capable people on her team. Within six months, everyone in her group found a spot elsewhere in the company, a lousy track record for the micromanager. When this supervisor was placed in charge of a different group, her “360 evaluations,” which enable employees and peers to anonymously rate the manager, came back with overwhelmingly negative responses.

Eventually the micromanager was terminated, but she had imposed her oppressive leadership style on dozens of employees. As part of an informal poll I conducted with nearly 200 professionals, I found that 15 percent of the average person’s career is spent working for an in-your-face manager. Total bummer.

Management style No. 2: “Out of place”: Mediocre or “getting by” are common descriptions associated with out-of-place managers. They don’t have their managerial act together; there’s an element that’s out of place or missing in their skill set or management style. This causes them to clunk along and get by in their leadership role, never really hitting their stride as a competent manager. They’re out of place. They may not have the right knowledge and experience for the role.

Out-of-place bosses may be a bit self-absorbed, out of touch with the team and insensitive to group needs, and often fair to poor communicators. They don’t know how to diplomatically coach, delegate and trust employees in a respectful and collaborative manner. They may get a puffed-up ego over controlling and managing others, may misuse their authority at times, and don’t know how to inspire their team (yeah, not your first choice).

How out-of-place managers acquired their position often adds to the out-of-place dynamic. This might be a terrific individual contributor who is promoted into a supervisory slot but has no clue how to guide, motivate and manage others. This also could be the reluctant offspring who inherits a family business or the boss’s best friend who snaps up a promotion.

These so-so managers don’t completely get it, yet they hang on. They’d rather be in another place or, if being a manager is where they want to be, their management methods are out of touch and out of place. Most people have tolerated working for versions of the out-of-place leader for several years.

What did my informal poll indicate for the out-of-place manager? Nearly 65 percent of our careers are spent working for this person — not bad enough to leave but not great, either. We capitulate, keep going and leap to other opportunities when we can. Partial bummer.

Management style No. 3: “Own your space”: Own-your-space managers are the best. Why? These are the managers who have trust and confidence in you. They let you own your area of responsibility, own your space. You run your own show while your manager provides the support, authority and resources you need, then gets out of the way and lets you do your job. Own-your-space managers appropriately delegate, yet are ready to pitch in and help when needed. They encourage you along the way, diplomatically let you know when you screw up, and set expectations for growth and performance so you know where you stand.

One of my best experiences working for a manager who let me own my space occurred after I received a promotion. He said two things: “Keep me informed” and “Run with it.” With those six little words he confirmed that he knew I had the knowledge and skills to do the job and he respected my ability to deliver.

As a manager he let each person on his team own their space. Sure, he had his flaws, but overall he was a great boss. Everybody wanted to work for this guy and it was easy to see why. My poll revealed that only 20 percent of our careers are spent working for this first-class manager. Bummer. We’d like it to be more than 20 percent.

Which management style would your team say best describes you? If you’re constantly picking at employees over details similar to “don’t touch the iPad with your sticky fingers,” you fall into the “in-your-face” micromanager category. Change is grossly needed. If you’re lacking knowledge about the business and the best ways to motivate people but you keep plodding along, you’re “out of place.” Take the initiative, get management training or move into a position where you don’t supervise others.

Lastly, if employees love working for you, I’m guessing you know how to let them “own their space.” You also know that having great management style takes worthwhile effort, learning and practice. Why bother? The rewards for your dedication and exemplary management aptitude and flair are simple. Your team succeeds, and so do you.

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue.

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