The Workplace

Which Boss Are You?

From The Dictator to The Buddy, four ways to get ahead in your career

What kind of manager are you? A robot or a maverick? A dictator or buddy? Just as the fate of any business rests on its senior management team, so your success rests on understanding your management style. A huge amount of money, time and effort is spent on management consultancy and coaching in an attempt to define and distil this most elusive of corporate assets – the US spend on management consultancy climbed to $54.7bn last year. Numerous studies have attempted to condense the shapeshifting qualities of “good management” into neat structures, such as the Hay-McBer survey of 3,871 executives that found six common management archetypes: the directive, the authoritative, the affiliative, the participative, the pacesetting and the coaching. It’s a discipline built on shifting sands, however, with any management structure being just as mercurial as the human team that makes it. Truly effective leaders know that good management is rarely black and white, but comes down to what is appropriate to the situation, task and team at hand. These leaders can recognise when management styles need to be mixed up, and cultivate a broad repertoire of people and approaches to deploy as and when required. Here, we explore some of the most common management styles. Consider when best to use them and how to deal with them if you’re on the receiving end.

The Dictator

Most commonly found in: finance, advertising, manufacturing

This is probably closest to the horrible boss archetype beloved of Hollywood movies – the micromanaging megalomaniac with a borderline personality disorder. This hardline approach is often described in management circles as a high-maintenance style, but this isn’t just the perspective of the minions being managed. It requires an almost superhuman level of commitment from the manager themselves, and can only succeed through unwavering vision and swift discipline. This is an extremely coercive style that requires no input from your workforce beyond their man hours, and indeed demands that your employees do not innovate or deviate from the path that you set out for them. Because it’s such a high-maintenance approach, The Dictator is best reserved for times of crisis when failure to execute a plan precisely could spell disaster for the business. If used in the long term, it tends to lead to an underdeveloped and demotivated workforce that grinds to a halt as soon as The Dictator leaves the room, terrified of the consequences of working without that singular vision present.

How to deal with them? Falling into line is often the safest tactic, but, perversely, it’s only by challenging them that you have a chance of truly winning their respect. Choose your battles wisely, though – Dictators love a purge.

The Maverick

Most commonly found in: media, fashion, design

Common in founder-led companies, The Maverick is a visionary character who is always focused on the new and may have little interest in the structures and systems required to grow or sustain the old. It’s essentially the entrepreneurial mindset enshrined in a management style and can be quite a light-touch approach, setting out a strategic vision and then stepping back to allow the team to execute it, only occasionally helicoptering in to reiterate that core vision. This style is best used when dealing with smart and motivated staff who are inspired by the task at hand, and most especially by your own personality as a manager. It requires the total credibility of your leadership and ceases to be effective as soon as your workforce stops buying into the vision you’ve set out. When you get it right, however, The Maverick can lead to some of the best job satisfaction of all management styles – for both the manager and those being managed. It requires a clarity of vision, inspiring rhetoric and motivational feedback on achieving key goals as a company.

How to deal with them? The Maverick loves vim and vigour, so be ever optimistic and receptive to their ideas. Adopt a can-do attitude and don’t bother them with practical considerations – they’re not interested.

The Robot

Most commonly found in: accountancy, law, technology

This style requires you to see your workforce as a matrix of ones and zeros rather than living, breathing human beings. It’s completely focused on structures, systems and efficiency and can be complementary to other styles, such as The Maverick, which tends to overlook the minutiae of how an objective will actually be met. The Robot sets extremely high standards, but also provides the necessary support structures needed to meet them, giving constant feedback and monitoring effectiveness. This is management as a well-oiled machine and can appear quite dispassionate from the employees’ perspective if you move people off tasks as soon as they are perceived to be failing and reallocate resources at lightning speed. The Robot works best when the manager embodies the approach, setting high personal standards that are always met. It is not necessarily the best management approach in a crisis because it relies on smooth-running systems and cannot easily adapt to systemic breakdown or deliver crucial innovation. It can also quickly produce high levels of stress in both manager and employees if workloads increase without extra resources being thrown at the situation, leading to a nuclear meltdown for all.

How to deal with them? It’s difficult to manage upwards or endear yourself to The Robot beyond ensuring that you do not disrupt the matrix. Do as they do, or at least appear to do so and cover your tracks well.

The Buddy

Most commonly found in: middle management

Collaborative, democratic and nurturing, The Buddy boss sounds ideal on paper. They’re the kind of manager who takes the time to catch up over coffee and puts in regular appearances at Friday evening drinks. Their primary goal is to keep the team motivated by keeping them happy, and they spend a lot of time and energy on their personal relationships. For The Buddy, people come first and meeting company objectives will hopefully follow after. The problem with this approach creeps in when conflict arises or when difficult decision need to be made. Because The Buddy tends to rule with a silken glove, employees can become confused and upset when an iron fist comes into play. By emphasising open dialogue, this management style also leaves you open to direct criticism, with employees feeling justified in challenging your decisions and publicly voicing their concerns. It can also leave your team unsure of the core vision for the business and whether they are meeting objectives. Because of these drawbacks, The Buddy is best used in combination with other management styles rather than as a pure approach.

How to deal with them? Meet their advances with a friendly smile, but don’t align yourself too closely. Be clear on what you feel needs to happen for the business to meet its objectives (someone has to).