By Willie Donald, Associate Trainer at Management Intelligence Consulting Ltd

Understanding or deciding on the appropriate style of management in the workplace can be a challenge for managers and employees alike. The Lifo Method allows us to group behaviour in the workplace into four styles, each of which provides a basic short-hand of typical behaviours we all witness day to day. While a person can be described as predominately emphasising a particular style, he or she may use aspects of all the styles, depending on the circumstances. The four styles are each a collection of attitudes, behaviours and ideologies which are integrated around a central theme.

- The Supporting-Giving management style is characterised by an attempt to behave in such a way that one will be worthy of the respect of others. It is the extension of the desire to be a good person, from being able to conform to the values and dictates of one’s beliefs, to striving for continuing self-development reflected in an overall insistence and concern for high standards of behaviour. Therefore being considerate, thoughtful, and helpful to others is valued; as is the ability to do things well. Trust, belief in others, a modest bearing, and a willingness to dedicate effort for good causes is consistent with this style.

Under intense threat someone using this style can be overly concerned with ideals to the point of being unrealistic and so concerned or so trusting and responsive that others take advantage. Because of this person’s high standards they may, under pressure, become hypocritical, lose confidence in their ability to cope and become overly dependent on others. When engaged in conflict the mode of response will be to try to relieve tension by giving in, or passively resisting.

Consider the case of Frank, a Divisional Director at a large pharmaceutical firm. He is best known for his ability to develop others. Many an employee has been promoted into management from his department. Indeed, he would never stand in anyone’s way. Decisions tend to be made in conferences with his senior staff when managers feel they are given room to exercise their independence, as long as they keep him informed. His insistence on quality work has earned honours for his Division. Despite his generally lenient attitude, it is said of him, “He’s a hard man to get a compliment from!” because of his high quality aspirations and expectation that those around him can reach the same heights of perfection. Personally dedicated and hardworking, he devotes more than his share of hours to the company. He is a man who can be trusted and doesn’t boast about his accomplishments. However, he is his own worst enemy when it comes to getting things done; often feeling personally responsible whenever something goes wrong. In arguments, people often get the best of him. Despite his high standards, his superiors sometimes feel that he isn’t tough enough with his subordinates.

- At the core of the Controlling-Taking management style is a constant desire to be competent, a desire to take advantage of whatever opportunity comes along and a belief that the individual is a master of his own fate. This style is characterised by a high sense of time urgency, a tendency to trust’s one’s own experience and judgement, and to act swiftly to achieve goals. For this person accomplishment is a must. Organising and energising others to get things done is highly attractive, as is the challenge of many problems to be solved. There is a strong sense of satisfaction in personally being able to influence and convince others of one’s desires.

Threat and high tension stimulate a lot of activity, an over involvement in everyone’s work, and sometimes frantic efforts to get problems solved immediately. Patience wears thin, and it is often accompanied by anger, blow-ups and coercive pressure on subordinates. In conflict, these people come on hard getting defensive very quickly and trying everything in their power to win their case. It is difficult to get such an executive to concede, even when they know they are in the wrong.

Consider Bill, an executive in an oil tools manufacturing company. He is outgoing and quick to offer his ideas whenever a meeting convenes. Things happen in his organisation. Employees say of Bill, “There is a golden rule in dealing with him, the rule of 3 Bs”. They say, “Be bright, be brief and be gone!”. It sometimes seems that he is running three companies at once and gives the impression of being constantly in motion. While decisions do get made and people receive encouragement to act, he is often difficult to reach because he is so busy. At times his enthusiasms outrun his ability to take care of everything. He is usually successful in getting what he wants from top management and it is hard to stop him once he gets started on anything. He prizes subordinates who are competent and able to take care of things, people who anticipate difficulties and alert him to emergencies. He has a quick temper when things go wrong and can spontaneously discipline a person in the spot. Just as easily, he can forget the event after it has happened, although the affected person may well remember it for a long time afterward. He frequently manages by crisis and gets overly involved in every detail when difficulties arise and can “buy back” the delegation he extended to his staff, taking control from them. People admire his ability to get results but also complain about his methods.

- Someone using the Conserving-Holding management style has the desire to prevent loss and an interest in protecting his or her current position. They will want to retrieve the most from any situation and maximise the value of what already exists in a situation or relationship. Careful analysis, thorough attention to detail and a reliance on sound procedures and policies are typical behaviours associated with this style. They will also demonstrate a generally cautious approach to new situations.

Under threat this style may reflect an unwillingness to be involved or a pre-occupation with detail. This person can become too involved in data and fail to appreciate other people’s lack of interest. In a conflict situation, they would either gather the facts and argue the case point by point, or simply tune out and withdraw. As well as suffering “analysis paralysis”, under pressure this style can often lead to an unwillingness to accept new ideas or be receptive to change.

Take the case of Joe who is a departmental manager in a large retailing company with a presence on virtually every high street. He runs one of the best organised departments in the company, in charge of delivery logistics. He has well-documented descriptions of each job, explicit ground rules and establishes yardstick’s for measuring every employee’s performance. Problems do not catapult Joe into action. He is known for his deliberate and thoughtful approach. If you ask Joe for a report you know you will get a thorough one. He can dig into a maze of facts and figures and show you many facets that you may have ignored. His staff knows that he will follow up meticulously on their assignments. However, they do feel that Joe can get too involved in the detail. His inability to be decisive has made his superiors wonder about his promotability. He is also an extremely difficult man to move once he has taken a position as he just digs in and cites one bit of evidence after another to support his point. While he is a sound departmental manager, he always drags his heels when it comes to making changes.

- Someone utilising the Adapting-Dealing management style demonstrates a desire to be liked and have everyone’s acceptance. Those who favour this style find it easy to meet people and are able to sense how people are feeling and thinking. They are quick to pick up the special nuances of behaviour that gain the recognition and approval of others. They respond enthusiastically and are eager to try things out. They are flexible in their habits. In negotiations they enjoy the exchange and like to see how they can strike a bargain which everyone likes. They love meeting people.

However, their very flexibility can be overdone under threat giving others the feeling that they are acting without principle. That strength of willingness to achieve compromise may, under stress or conflict conditions, become appeasement simply to preserve harmony and goodwill. In stressful situations they will often use humour to decrease tension. If used to excess, this approach can have the unfortunate effect of making them appear trivial or lightweight.

Take the case of Barbara, a highly likeable executive in a global media and advertising firm. She seems to know everyone in the organisation and always senses just the right thing to say to people. Somehow she is always able to get things done in a charming and diplomatic way with an uncanny recognition of the informal channels of influence in the company. She is skilful in being able to create a good team spirit in her team. When encountering conflict she acts as a skilled peacemaker who will acknowledge the value of both positions but is also able to place an interpretation on their differences which allows people to save face. Her detractors, however, claim that she is too concerned about approval and goodwill and as a result, doesn’t take the hard stands when she needs to. Others feel that they don’t know her, despite her easy going manner because she seems reluctant to back any particular point of view with consistency. She is seen to be a political animal which can have its advantages in the Boardroom, but will find many critics in the locker room.

These sketches depict stereotypes. Few people behave wholly within one style dimension. Indeed, we all tend to use all the styles from time to time, but we do tend to favour one style over the others and this is often observed by colleagues, friends and associates as our preferred way of behaving . Frank, Bill Joe and Barbara use some of the other behaviours of the other styles at times, but they prefer the ones above since those are the styles that work best for them, they believe.

Looking at these examples we can see that behaviours that are seen as strengths give rise to productive behaviour when things are going well. However, when things are not going so well, these self-same strengths can in fact become weaknesses and give rise to unproductive behaviours.

Excessive behaviours can manifest themselves at any time in the workplace or in our personal lives. They can be at the very minimum unproductive, and at their worst, destructive of personal and work relationships and for a manager disastrous when managing a team and endeavouring to increase motivation or productivity.

Increased self-awareness by the manager is vital to ensure the right management style for not only the team but each team member is chosen to deliver optimum communication.

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