Is Your Management Style Helping or Hurting Your Business?

Is Your Management Style Helping or Hurting Your Business?

Whether you are aware of it or not, if you have an employee, you also have a management style. Is your management style something that was consciously designed, or is it something you’ve never really even considered? By understanding different management styles and when they are best used, you can reduce recidivism, run an efficient office and grow your practice.
First, let’s consider the differences between a manager and a leader. While there are traits that are common to being both a manager and a leader, like ice cream and froyo, they are not one in the same. A “manager” is defined, in part, as “a person whose work or profession is management,” or “a person who directs a team….” On the other hand, a “leader“, is defined in part, as “a person who has commanding authority or influence.”

A manager is responsible for ensuring the completion of certain tasks, while a leader is charged with inspiring others to achieve a common goal. All managers are not leaders, and all leaders are not managers. In a perfect world, we could all seamlessly juggle management, leadership and legal genius, but alas, we live in an imperfect world. Consider whether you are more of a processes-and-procedures-type or more of a people-person. The answer to this impacts the type of management style that will work best in your office.

Bearing this in mind, let’s move on to the different management styles. Rosalind Cardinal described these styles in a 2015 article. We’ll hit the high points:

Directive. The first style is the directive style, which is characterized by close control of employees and precise order-giving. This management style is effective in times of crisis or when veering from stated directions could cause problems. It is ineffective when employees are in a position where they need to learn and grow or when employees are highly skilled because it allows no independent thinking or problem solving.

Authoritative. The authoritative style’s primary objective is to provide a long-term direction and vision for employees. The employee is given a clear direction, which can be in both short-term and long-term goals. The authoritative style is effective when there are clear directions given by a credible leader, and it is ineffective when employees still need guidance to achieve the objectives or when the leader is not credible.

Affiliative. The affiliative style seeks to promote cooperation and positivity in the workplace, both between employees and between employees and managers. This style is effective when used in coordination with other management styles, when tasks are routine and when a conflict has arisen that needs to be addressed. The affiliative style is least effective when an employee is not meeting performance standards or when there is a crisis situation that needs strong and immediate direction.

Participative. The participative style is characterized by building consensus among employees. In essence, this style is democratic – everyone has input and team efforts are rewarded. The participative style is effective when experienced employees work together in a stable environment. This style is ineffective when employees need direction on their jobs, cannot work together or when there is a crisis.

Pacesetting. The pacesetting style seeks to promote a high standard of excellence. The manager motivates employees by performing many tasks and producing a high quality of work. The expectation is that employees will follow suit. This style works when employees are motivated and competent.

Coaching. The coaching style is a long-term investment in employees by way of mentorship. Coaching helps employees to develop their skills and provides opportunities for growth. This style is effective when employees are motivated to learn. The coaching style will not work if the manager lacks expertise or in a crisis.

Which management style is best for your law practice? Well, the answer is likely that a combination of these styles is well suited to most efficiently manage your firm. Consider, for example, the new associate. In hiring an associate, you are generally hoping to make a long-term investment in that individual’s’ skills and talents. Thus, it is important that, although the associate may be underdeveloped in terms of legal know-how, they feel supported in tackling new challenges.

When learning a new area of law, the coaching style allows the new associate to build confidence and learn the ropes without the dreaded trial by fire. Once the associate has gotten their footing, the affiliative or pacesetting styles may be better suited for day-to-day management. The affiliative style can ignite creativity and collaboration, resulting in finely tuned legal arguments or outside-of-the box solutions. A motivated associate may thrive under a pacesetting style and make him or herself especially monetarily valuable to the firm. Consider your interactions with employees – are you barking orders or inspiring your employees to independently or collaboratively produce the best possible work product?

Now that we know a little about the management styles and have done some self-reflection on the current styles in place, the final question is this: Does your management style help or hurt your business? Do your employees need more coaching to fully realize their potential? If so, making this investment could streamline office procedures, increase efficiency and create a better client experience.

Are you providing too few opportunities for employees to excel independently? If so, allowing employees to spread their wings and fly, so to speak, could free you up to handle more cases or grow your business. Understanding and using the management styles that work best for you and for your team will undoubtedly improve your business, but there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. If you believe that there’s room for improvement in your firm, don’t be scared to give a different management style a try.


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Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success. Anyone who has ever met Jared will tell you h


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