Strategy

You’re a communicator? Here’s 6 leadership styles you’ll encounter working with managers

From astrology to Myers Briggs to Buzzfeed quizzes, people have found value and entertainment in creating different categories to put people into — with varying degrees of utility.

As internal communication professionals, it may not be that useful to know what Harry Potter house the managers you work with fit into, but as Ethan McCarty, the CEO of Integral Communications Group made clear in Poppulo’s webinar on line manager communication, there are some categories it is useful to be aware of.

He draws on a list of the different types of managers Internal Communication can expect to encounter. It pays to know which types you’re working with, so you can better tailor your communications strategy to what makes the most sense for them.

McGregor’s 2 Types of Leaders

The first two categories McCarty shared came from Douglas McGregor, who published a book sharing his theories of management called The Human Side of Enterprise. In the book, he outlines two types of managers: Theory X and Theory Y.

1. Theory X Managers

As McCarty described it, “Theory X managers believe that employees are not really inclined to work, are going to avoid responsibility, and need to be incentivized or forced in order to get their work done.” 

They’re convinced that employees need a lot of supervision and control. They insist on productivity and structure and are likely to provide specific expectations to employees and institute performance-based awards. 

2. Theory Y Managers

By contrast, Theory Y managers “believe that employees are generally happy to work on their own initiative, and because of that, it’s beneficial to involve them in decision-making.”

They focus on helping employees feel inner motivation and responsibility for what they do, and are more likely to give them room to figure out how to do their work on their own terms. The hope is, McCarty explains, that they’ll feel the work is “fulfilling or challenging in a positive way, which in turn, will lead them to solve problems creatively.”

McCarty says managers in communications tend more toward Theory Y than X. “A lot of communications people are in the profession because they find it fulfilling and because they love the work.”

The challenge you may have, then, is learning how to work effectively with Theory X managers in the organization. If you want to help bring them around to some Theory Y approaches, you have to do it in a way that speaks to how they think. 

“If you create a program that appeals to the Theory X personality, but in order to achieve it, you exhibit Theory Y tendencies, you might have some success,” he explains. “What I mean by that is, you might have a session on how coaching can improve performance in your team. Developing and administering that could be much more effective in getting some of those Theory Y tendencies to emerge in a Theory X culture.”

Takeaways on McGregor’s Types

 While in general, there’s been a shift over time away from Theory X and more toward Theory Y, most large organizations are still likely to have a mix of the two managerial types. There are potential benefits to each. While it sounds harsher than Theory Y, some workers thrive under the structure a Theory X approach provides. And others do better when they have the freedom to do work in their own way. 

It’s not for IC to decide which is better, or to nudge managers toward one style over another, but it can be helpful to understand which of the managers you work with is which, so you understand their motivations and process better.

Lewin’s 3 Types of Leaders

In addition to the categories defined by McGregor, McCarty talked about three more leadership styles it’s worth understanding, those shared by Kurt Lewin. These include the Autocratic Leader, the Democratic Leader, and the Laissez-faire Leader.

1. Autocratic Leaders

The autocratic leader resembles the Theory X manager. This type of manager “wants to retain control of the situation, make his or her decisions, and expects them to be carried out,” says McCarty. They make decisions on their own, without consulting their teams. 

That can be beneficial in companies where work moves fast since they can make quick decisions and stick with them. But as a downside, it can be bad for morale if employees are never involved in the decisions. 

2. The Democratic Leader

The democratic leader is definitely in the Theory Y camp. This type of manager “wants to involve people in decision-making, distributes responsibility, [and] actually expects people to participate as decision-makers,” says McCarty.

They still make the final decisions, but they let everyone on the team have a say, so they feel like a more important part of the process. One result of this approach, according to McCarty, is that they “cultivate that feeling of innovation that might bring meaning to the work.”

3. The Laissez-faire Leader

The laissez-faire leader is the opposite of a micromanager. This type of leader “just wants to provide the tools and resources needed and then step back” and let the employees take it from there. They’re the most extreme version of a Theory Y type. 

For some types of workers, that extra freedom and trust gives them room to be creative and get things done in the working style that’s most productive and efficient for them. For others that have less self-motivation or lack the skill to manage their time well, a laissez-faire boss can be a bad fit.

Takeaways on Lewin’s Types of Managers

As with McGregor’s types, McCarty emphasizes that there isn’t one right way to do things here. The different management styles are “ appropriate to different situations.” 

And you shouldn’t expect a manager with one style to change to another. “Often, they are related to a person’s own personality before even becoming a manager. It may be a worldview that they have,” he says. 

Instead of trying to convert the managers you work with to the management type you think is best, you should consider the strengths of their particular style and how you can help them use those strengths for better results.

The Servant-Leader

The last type of manager McCarty described was the servant leader. “The ideal servant-leader sees his or her role as removing blockers, as opposed to applying more pressure.”

They try to stay on top of any issues that make it harder for their team to do their jobs and address them. There’s definitely some overlap with the servant-leader, Type Y, and the democratic and laissez-faire management styles. 

This leadership type is especially valuable in organizations that do agile and scrum development. For companies where creativity and flexibility are important, servant-leaders enable creative workers to do their jobs more effectively.          

The Value of Understanding Leadership Styles

One of the most important tenets of good communication is tailoring what you say and how you say it based on who you’re talking to. An awareness of the different types of managers helps you to understand the people you’re working with, empathize with the way they do things, and figure out the best way to communicate with each of them.

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