How to Adapt Your Management Style

Managerial Style Is Situational Depending on Employee Involvement

Supervisor listening to workers in factory
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Did you know that a variety of management and leadership styles exist that you can use to accomplish your goals and work? Management style is the manner in which you approach your leadership and management role and relationship with the employees who report to you.

If you want to become an effective manager — one who is contributing to all levels of needed performance — the role needs to change based on the situation in which you find yourself managing. The most effective managers are able to change their approach seamlessly and comfortably.

Your Management Style Is Situational

Your management style is situational depending on a number of factors. The management style you choose to use at any particular moment depends on these factors.

  • the situation you are managing,
  • the experience, seniority, and the longevity of the employee involved,
  • your trust level with the employee involved,
  • your relationship with the employee who is responsible for the work,
  • prior practices of the department or organization in which you work,
  • the prevailing culture of your organization and whether you fit the culture,
  • employee policies and procedures published by the Human Resources department, and
  • your own experience and level of comfort in applying various management styles to different projects and in different settings.

    Your characteristic management style is a reflection of your personal philosophy about leading people. It also demonstrates your values and your beliefs in a way that few other factors do. Your management style reflects what you believe about people and the level of trust you hold for employees.

    Management Style Model

    An effective manager has a variety of styles that he or she can use depending on the situation. They all involve the degree to which a manager decides to involve employees in decision making. Management styles also reflect the relationship the manager has with employees. A management style model will help you see the difference between the available management approaches.

    R. Tannenbaum and W. Schmidt (1958) and Sadler (1970) provide a continuum for management and employee involvement that includes an increasing role for employees and a decreasing role for managers in the decision-making process. The continuum includes these management styles.


    This is also known as the autocratic style of management. It represents top-down, dictatorial decision making with little employee input. Tell is also the manner in which traditional, hierarchical organizations communicated with employees.

    In the tell mode, the manager makes the decision and communicates the decision to employees. Tell is a useful management style when communicating about safety issues, government regulations and decisions that neither require nor ask for employee input. You might also use the tell management style when you communicate directions to a new, inexperienced employee.

    Tell is used less frequently in the quickly changing work environment of today’s offices. Technology and the availability of information in organizations have changed the balance of power that favored management decision making in the earlier hierarchical, paternal organizations.

    Even in manufacturing and industrial settings, traditionally bastions of the tell style of management, employees now experience more autonomy and involvement in decision making.


    In the sell management style, the manager has made the decision and then attempts to persuade employees that the decision is correct. The manager attempts to gain commitment from staff by selling the positive aspects of the decision. During the process of selling the decision, the manager may allow the employees to influence the details of the decision.

    Employees can influence how the decision is carried out, too, as in who will do what and when to move the project or process forward as additional details that employees may influence. The sell management style is used when employee commitment and support is needed, but the decision is not open to very much employee influence.

    As with the tell management style, fewer decisions are made this way in today's organizations. But, tell and sell management styles prevail in organizations that are either mired in old thinking or the managers are untrained in current management practices.

    With that, in any organization, sell is useful as a management style when used appropriately. Used too frequently, employees feel manipulated and not empowered.


    In the consult management style, the manager requests employee input into a decision but retains the authority to make the final decision. The key to using the consult management style successfully is to inform employees, on the front end of the discussion, that their input is needed, but that the manager will make the final decision.

    When employees are asked for input and feel that their input was not used and did not influence the decision, you will most readily create employee disenfranchisement.

    This is the level of involvement that can create severe employee dissatisfaction when the reasons for the decision are not clear. Additionally, for success, the manager must explain why employee input was or was not used.

    People can disagree with the course of action that the manager chooses, but as long as their input was considered, and they know that it was thoroughly and thoughtfully considered, they can get over it.

    If the manager does a good job of selling the decision, they may eventually support the decision. What they do not get over is feeling as if their input and feedback went into a dark hole. They become cynical and unwilling to provide input the next time the manager needs their advice and thoughts.


    In the join management style, the manager invites employees to join him or her in making the decision. The manager considers his or her voice equal to the employees in the decision-making process. You are sitting together around the same table and every voice is key in the decision.

    A join management style is effective when the manager truly builds agreement and commitment around a decision. The manager must also be willing to keep his or her influence equal to the degree of influence that other employees who provide input exert. The join management style is effective whenever a manager is willing to share authority.

    When you use the join management style, you need to be aware of the positive aspects of the style. Equally as important, you need to understand the downside. On the positive side, the join management style engenders a great deal of commitment to and ownership by employees of the course of action chosen. The manager will not need to sell his or her idea or tell employees what to do.

    On the flip side, reaching a shared agreement on a decision takes a lot of time. It requires employees to participate in conflict about the solution, an act that many employees are unprepared to do, by culture, nature, or training. However, an unsupported goal or approach is rarely the result.

    Many current organizations advocate for the join management style whenever possible, but do understand the real positive and negative ramifications of the join management style of decision making.

    Adding to the Management Style Model

    To round out the model, a final step is needed. Add the following to the original four types of decision making:


    In the delegate management style, the manager turns the decision over to employees. The key to successful delegation is to share a critical path with the employees that have designated points at which you need feedback and updating from the employees. 

    You need to identify and communicate the critical paths at the beginning of a project so that the employee does not feel as if you are nitpicking or micromanaging his or her project.

    Always build this critical path feedback loop and a timeline into the process. To make delegation successful, the manager must also share any "preconceived picture" he has of the anticipated outcome of the process.

    It’s not fair to fool an employee who feels empowered. He won’t forgive you and he will hesitate to accept your next delegation.

    Your management style should reflect the circumstances of the situation that you are managing. It will reflect your personal and business values and the relationship that you have with the employees who report to you. You can improve your management style repertoire to create better decisions and a more successful work environment.


    Tannenbaum, R. and Schmidt, W. "How to Choose a Leadership Pattern". Harvard Business Review, 1958, 36, 95-101.