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Applying Management Styles

19 January, 2016 - 15:28

It is great to talk about management style, but application of that management style, especially in an HR environment, is just as important as knowing the management styles. In this section, we will discuss how and when you might use each style when managing people.

Another way we can view leadership is through the situational leadership model. 1 This model, developed by Ken Blanchard (author of the One Minute Manager series of books), does a good job explaining how we might use one type of management style versus another.

The model looks at three areas: the relationship behavior of the manager, the task behavior of the manager, and the readiness of employees. The relationship behavior means how supportive the manager needs to be in helping employees. Task behavior refers to the type of style the manager should use when managing employees, based on their readiness level. Readiness includes the willingness and skills to perform the task at hand. Depending on where the employees fall in each of these areas, you might use a different management style:

  • D4—High Competence, High Commitment—Experienced at the job and comfortable with their own ability to do it well. May even be more skilled than the leader.
  • D3—High Competence, Variable Commitment—Experienced and capable, but may lack the confidence to go it alone or the motivation to do it well/quickly.
  • D2—Some Competence, Low Commitment—May have some relevant skills but won’t be able to do the job without help. The task or the situation may be new to them.
  • D1—Low Competence, High Commitment—Generally lacking the specific skills required for the job at hand but has the confidence and/or motivation to tackle it.

Based on the readiness and commitment of the employee, the leader can see what management style and level of support the employee should experience:  2

  • S1—Telling/Directing—High task focus, low relationship focus—Leaders define the roles and tasks of the “follower” and supervise them closely. Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one way. This style can be used with people who lack competence but are enthusiastic and committed and who need direction and supervision to get them started.
  • S2—Selling/Coaching—High task focus, high relationship focus—Leaders still define roles and tasks but seek ideas and suggestions from the follower. Decisions remain the leader’s prerogative, but communication is much more two-way. This approach can be used with people who have some competence but lack commitment and who need direction and supervision because they are still relatively inexperienced. These individuals may also need support and praise to build their self-esteem and involvement in decision making to restore their commitment.
  • S3—Participating/Supporting—Low task focus, high relationship focus—Leaders pass day-to-day decisions, such as task allocation and processes, to the follower. The leader facilitates and takes part in decisions, but control is given to the follower. This style can be used with people who have the necessary competence but lack confidence or motivation. These individuals may need little direction because of their skills, but support is necessary to bolster their confidence and motivation.
  • S4—Delegating—Low task focus, low relationship focus—Leaders are still involved in decisions and problem solving, but control is with the follower. The follower decides when and how the leader will be involved. This style would work with people who have both competence and commitment and who are able and willing to work on a project by themselves with little supervision or support.

The bottom line when discussing management style is that no one style works best in all situations. We may be more comfortable with one style versus another, but we need to change our management style depending on the person and task we are working with. For example, if you have an employee who is brand new, you will likely work with that person using a more directive style. As she develops, you might change to a participative style. Likewise, someone who does good work and has lots of experience may prefer a free-rein style. Many managers make the mistake of trying to use the same style with every person in every situation. To be a great manager, we must change our styles based on the situation and the individual involved. How does this relate to human resources? First, in HR, we are the “go to” people when there are communication issues or issues between management and employees. By understanding these styles ourselves, it will be easier to communicate with and provide solutions for the people we work with. We might even be able to use this information to develop management training, which can result in better communication and higher productivity.

Figure 9.5 Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model 

Human Resource Recall

What kind of management style does your supervisor use? Is it effective?

Key Takeaways

  • Just like in communication, a different management style should be used depending on the employee.
  • Task styles focus on getting the job done, while people-centered styles focus on relationships.
  • A participatory style involves both task-oriented and people-centered styles. Adirecting style is focused on the task and doesn’t allow for employee participation. A teamwork style focuses on teamwork and is a people-oriented style. The advantage of this style is the ability to use strengths from everyone on the team.
  • An autocratic style doesn’t allow much room for employee decision making; the focus is on getting the task done. A participative style constantly requires input from employees. The free-rein style gives employees freedom to make decisions on how things will get done.
  • The situational leadership model, which looks at relationship behavior, task behavior, and the readiness of employees, is used to recommend different management styles.
  • No one management style works in all situations. Just like with communication, you will likely want to vary your approach based on the situation to get the best results.


  1. Why is it important to understand management style if you are an HR professional or manager? Discuss at least three points.
  2. What combinations of management style might you use in each of these situations and why?
    1. You are considering a major change in the way your company does business. Your staff has an excellent record of achieving goals, and your relationship with them is trusting and supportive.
    2. Your employees do a great job. A situation has developed in which you need to make quick decisions and finish a project by the end of the week.
    3. Your employees arehaving trouble getting the job done. Their performance as a whole is less than expected..
    4. You have an employee who is very motivated but has little experience.