6 Management styles and which are best for your business

management styles

Pinning down your management style can be a bit like defining your taste in music. For instance, you could normally be all about that classic life, but also get a shoulder bob on to a bit of Beyoncé or attempt some ill-advised pop-and-locking to a few choice tracks from Drake or Post Malone. Alternatively, you could be a staunch metal fan who gets a little weepy to Laurika Rauch and has a sneaky playlist of Disney classics.

The point is, humans (even managers!) are fluid creatures and our vibe is seldom set in stone. 

However, it does help to define your prevailing management style from time to time, so you can evaluate which aspects of it works, and which aspects could do with a little tweaking to better suit the current state of your company.

To help you do so, we’ve broken down six of the most common management styles, as described by authors Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyzatsis, and Annie McKee in their 2002 book Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, so you can use it as a yardstick to measure your own. 

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The directive management style - This is best for companies in crisis.

This style is also sometimes referred to as 'coercive' or 'autocratic' because it is characterised by an old-school, top-down decision-making style. Think Mad Men. The boys at the top make the decisions, the folks down below fall in line. As you can imagine, there are aspects of this management style that work, but by itself it can wreak some serious havoc. 

Advantages of this approach to management are that conflicts and differences of opinion are avoided because the manager is in full control of direction. There is normally also more focus, and the manager is aware of the status of work at all times. As such, it is particularly suited to companies in crisis, and in cases of emergency. Disadvantages of this style include that it stifles learning and development because employees are merely doing what they're told and there is scant room for error. Employee morale is also likely to be very low. 


The authoritative management style - This is best for start-ups and businesses that require direction. 

The authoritative management style is a favourite at the moment, but it's not without its hazards. It is based on a leadership model whereby the head of the organisation sets the vision for the enterprise and then steps back to allow their employees to achieve this vision by getting to work. The manager may step in to share input from time to time, but will do so by using persuasion and encouragement rather than outright instruction.  

Since this form of leadership gives employees a sense of freedom while still providing focus and feedback, it is well suited to teams that require direction, including start-ups. However, it is not ideal in situations where employees are undertrained or the manager lacks credibility because employees may become complacent or even go somewhat rogue. 

READ MORE: 3 South African CEOs driving the company culture agenda and what we can learn from them


The affiliative management style - This is best for teams that lack cohesion.

The affiliative management style is focused on creating a happy, harmonious working space in which people come first. There is a lot of focus on conflict avoidance, encouragement and employee satisfaction. 

This leadership approach is appropriate in companies that lack the cohesion of proper teamwork, and might even have serious divisions and rifts that can be fixed by an empathetic manager. On the flipside, it can lead to mediocre performance and complacency when it's not employed correctly and balanced with aspects of a firmer, more direct leadership style. 

READ MORE: Improving employee satisfaction is great for your business! Here's 4 reasons why


The participative management style - This is best for steady, established working environments.

Participative management is also sometimes referred to as democratic leadership. This type of leader gets down in the trenches with their troops, promoting harmony among co-workers and driving consensus and commitment. These managers are willing to listen, encourage their employees to participate in decision-making, and are known to recognise and reward team effort. 

This type of leadership is tailor made for steady, established working environments where it builds solid working relationships based on trust. It's also great for creative spaces where brainstorming is essential because it encourages cooperation among employees. However, it can be crippling in situations where the workforce does not have the adequate training or during times of crisis, since progress tends to be slow under this type of management. 


The pacesetting management style - This is best for teams made up of well-trained experts.

The pacesetting manager leads by example - they set a high standard and expect their employees to follow suit. This type of leader expects their employees to pick up where they leave off and have very high expectations of their team. 

Since this management style allows employees more freedom to put their skills and competence to good use, it's perfect for environments in which employees are experts who can keep up the pace (think medical or legal practices). However, it is not suited to situations where development and coaching is key, since pacesetting leadership can place a lot of pressure on a workforce and be dispiriting for some employees. 


The coaching management style - This is best for workforces that require lots of instruction and training. 

The coaching management style hinges on mentoring. This type of leader is firmly focused on the development of their team and is willing to help, support and encourage wherever possible. 

This management style comes into its own in companies where instruction and training are of great importance. It fosters a relationship of respect and cooperation between the manager and their team and often encourages a thirst for learning. It is not suitable if the manager themselves does not have adequate experience or when there is unhealthy competition among employees to start with. 

READ MORE: 10 Ways great leaders empower employees and boost productivity

There you have it - six of the most prevalent management styles, along with their pros and cons.

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