Understanding Management Styles: Play to Strengths

When you have important decisions to make and employees looking for guidance, it's easy to get into a pattern of "just doing it." But many savvy middle market leaders have learned the benefits of stepping back to take stock of their management style. After all, every leader excels in different areas, and you can build a stronger company if you learn to play to your strengths and find ways (whether through skills building or strategic hires) to mitigate potential weaknesses.

The first step in understanding management styles is to create a vision of the manager you want to be. What do you want to bring out in your people? And what do you want to avoid? A good place to start is what you have learned from past experiences. Says Matt Hlavin, president of the middle market company Thogus, a national provider of plastic injection molding services, "Through my journey in life, I have worked for people who micromanage and control, and always felt this was a blanket that smothers companies. People who try and control too much stifle innovation, suppress people and defeat morale." Instead, he's clear on his own vision: "Empower, nurture and trust." As he points out, "In order to build an innovative culture that embraces change, you have to allow your team to make decisions, own those decisions, and experience the journey of seeing their work through to the end. If you don't allow people to fail, how do they learn?"

Next, you need to get clear on the strengths and weaknesses of particular management styles. For instance, Hlavin recognizes that his greatest strength is "vision and the ability to see how different processes and technologies can create solutions," while his weakness is a tendency to "bring too many ideas to the table and want to solve them all at once." An important way to gain perspective is to build a team of trusted advisors who can give you honest feedback. For Hlavin, this includes an outside strategy consultant, Deb Mills-Scofield; the accountant who originally advised Hlavin's grandfather, who founded the business in 1950; and his COO. He also holds regular "Matt's Chats" with employees, in which they sign up for 15 minute slots to discuss anything and everything.

Finally, you need to keep learning and ensure your own approach to management styles evolves over time. Says Hlavin, "My management style is one of change and adaptation. The only thing that remains the same are my values and beliefs." To stretch himself, he reads business magazines and journals frequently, and makes a point of networking with leaders both inside and outside his field. He also serves on nonprofit boards, and - in perhaps the ultimate test of his management acumen - coaches his son's and daughter's sports teams. "My goal at the beginning of each sport is to develop each athlete as a person [first]...It has taught me humility and reconfirmed my beliefs as a person and as a leader." 

What's your management style? How do you get feedback â€” and keep growing as a leader? 

Dorie Clark is an NCMM contributor and marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her new book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter and Google+.


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