Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
The following is an excerpt from business expert Scott Greenberg’s new book, Stop the Shift Show: Turn Your Struggling Hourly Workers Into a Top-Performing Team, available now.
As a business coach and speaker, I’m constantly asked by managers, “How can I get my employees to _______?” Fill in the blank: “work as a team,” “step up their performance,” “care about their work,” etc. The question always focuses on fixing the employee. Rarely am I asked, “How can I improve as a leader?” In most cases, the answer to the second question will also resolve the first.
It starts with more self-awareness. Be willing to reflect on your thoughts and behaviors so you can have more impact on the thoughts and behaviors of your team. Most managers are too busy to reflect. They’re so focused on everything that needs to get done that they don’t realize how their leadership style may be affecting the process and their people. Or maybe they don’t believe they’re part of the problem at all. It always feels better to point the finger than to look in the mirror.
Buy ‘Stop the Shift Show’ Now: Entrepreneur Bookstore | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
And the truth is, you want employee underperformance to be partially your fault. Because if it is, you can do something about it. Taking responsibility is more empowering than laying blame. And it’s easier to change yourself than it is to change others.
Your management technique doesn’t have to be problematic to still be limiting. You may have built a functional team that gets the job done. But there may be a way to do even better, to go from functional to exceptional. Our objective isn’t to be adequate but to be excellent.
See which of these management styles is closest to yours, and the suggestions for tweaking your style to bring about better performance from your workers.
Management Style 1: The Top Dog
This manager prefers to be in control. Communication tends to be one way. They say what to do and expect team members to do it. It’s an autocratic approach to leadership that has advantages and disadvantages.
When there’s a crisis, or when things need to get done quickly, a take-charge approach to leadership can be very efficient. Sometimes we need a strong general to get us through the battle, or a decisive coach to dictate the next play.
But while Top Dog leadership gets things done, it sometimes comes at the cost of team morale. Often these leaders speak in an urgent tone that doesn’t feel too good to hear. They give feedback to employees without considering the impact of their words. They may also miss others’ good ideas by failing to listen. Or maybe they just neglect employee welfare altogether because they’re so focused on the task at hand.
Our close friends’ 16-year-old son left his first job at McDonald’s, which he loved, because he felt one of the managers was way too critical. The kid was happy to work for a manager but unwilling to get worked by a manager. This type of management can easily get too extreme (or be perceived that way), and workers will no longer accept that. For this style of leadership to work, managers need to know how far they can push for results without breaking their employees’ spirit.
Top Dog management is best for urgent, high-stakes situations where a quick end result is the biggest priority, provided the manager actually knows what’s best and can keep their severity in check.
Management Style 2: The Collaborator
This manager enjoys give-and-take with team members. Communication is two-way, and all ideas are welcome and considered. The additional input yields more perspectives, information, and choices. This style of management, in which decisions are made collectively, is empowering to everyone. People like to have a say, and when they do, they have more ownership in the outcome. Collaborators like to keep their teams happy. Giving employees a voice will do that.
But this style can also be inefficient. Consensus takes time. When things need to be dealt with immediately, this approach won’t work. And not all work is suited for groups. There’s a saying that “A camel is a horse drawn by committee.” On the few occasions I’ve attempted to help groups write a mission statement, the result is a long, wordy sentence everyone has altered and no one likes. And when the stakes are high and work is stressful, there are a lot more personalities needing to be managed.
Collaborator management is best for brainstorming and making plans when the work is less time-sensitive or urgent, with employees who have lots of experience and knowledge.
Management Style 3: The Chillaxer
Sometimes referred to as a “laissez-faire leader,” this manager prefers to hang back a bit (“chill”) and let the team do its thing. That doesn’t mean they don’t care. They just don’t want to get in the way. They see their team as smart and capable and want to empower them. They believe people learn best by doing and are willing to let employees make mistakes, knowing they’ll learn from them. They also know skilled employees dislike being micromanaged and appreciate being trusted. The added space allows them to spread their wings. In this environment, employees can take risks and be creative. Steve Jobs was known as this kind of manager (when he wasn’t top dogging!), famously saying, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
But this style of management doesn’t work well with unmotivated employees or those lacking proper training, ability, and/or confidence. They need supervision, direction, feedback, and accountability. I remember my son’s basketball coach got so fed up with players pushing back on his directions that during one game he decided to give them what they wanted. He sat on the bench and let them play without coaching. Once they fell 26 points behind, the team captain reached out to him for help. The team had realized they didn’t want a Chillaxer; they needed a Top Dog! The coach called for a time-out, reengaged in the game, and by the end got the team back within four points. They lost the game but learned some respect.
Chillaxer management is best for proven, skilled employees who have earned their independence and can be trusted to get results.
Management Style 4: The Visionary
While many managers work just to get through a shift, Visionary managers are all about the big picture. Everything they do is about supporting the organization’s mission. They inspire their teams by speaking in broader terms, giving meaning and purpose to their work. When I was an Edible Arrangements franchisee, every Valentine’s Day I started the day with a pep talk, reminding my employees that each fruit basket they were about to create would be an expression of someone’s love. Every order was going to make someone happy and bring couples closer together. They liked having that strong sense of “why.” Visionaries also focus a lot on employee growth and constantly facilitate their learning.
Visionaries have a wonderful larger perspective but often miss the important details of day-to-day work. Fulfilling a mission is great, but sometimes you just need to get the pizza sliced, boxed, and out the door. Visionaries aren’t as effective with the small picture, and that picture matters a lot, too. The temporary help we brought in on Valentine’s Day loved knowing they were doing important work. But that wasn’t enough. They also needed to be told what to do so they could fulfill that mission.
Visionary management is great when team members need inspiration, purpose, and personal growth.
Being Self-Aware and Moving Forward
Now that we’ve discussed these four management styles, don’t get too hung up on them. In spite of the many leadership and personality assessments out there, most people can’t be accurately described with just one label. Nor are there just four ways to manage people. Human beings are complex. There’s a lot of nuance to who we are and how we behave.
The point is to get you thinking about your management style and how it shapes the way you treat your team. It’s easier to adjust when you know which way you lean.
It’s also important to understand the difference between how you’re inclined to manage and how your employees need you to manage. If you were leading a team of highly skilled employees with education, experience, and a salary, a less hands-on approach to management (Collaborator or Chillaxer) might be more appropriate. Scientists researching cures for cancer probably don’t need as much close supervision or direction or a reminder of their big-picture mission. In an hourly setting, chances are greater that your employees are newer and/or less skilled. You may have to be more engaged and direct (Top Dog) and may need to remind your team more often of their purpose (Visionary). Do this well, and you’ll soon be able to lead them more as partners (Collaborator) and delegate to them more confidently (Chillaxer).
Be willing to shift your management style based on your people and the situation.
Get more management tips and strategies from ‘Stop the Shift Show,’ available now at the Entrepreneur Bookstore.