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What Kind of Supervisor Are You?

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Six management styles and when to use them

As someone new to a supervisory role, you’ll need to explore the different leadership styles and the benefits and pitfalls of each. So says Lara Rauchwarter, director of human resources for the American Academy of Neurology. Rauchwarter enrolls first-time leaders in the University of Minnesota’s Principles of Supervision course as an important first step into a supervisory role. 

Lara Rauchwarter
Lara Rauchwarter

“I want new leaders to have a good foundation for their team's success,” says Rauchwarter. “The course helps them learn about themselves and gives them a good idea about what it means to be a leader. Once they've participated in the course, they better understand their role and recognize they have the tools to tackle their new responsibilities.” 

Course instructor Stephanie McGovern says that’s exactly what she designed the course to do. “Your effectiveness as a supervisor depends on knowing yourself, your leadership style, and having the skills to navigate a multitude of diverse situations. In Principles of Supervision, students will gain confidence and grounding to discern and focus on what really matters. Among other things, they’ll identify their own natural leadership style as well as when they may need to adapt their style to create better outcomes.”

McGovern, a 25-year veteran in leadership development, shared these common management styles and gave examples of situations in which each would be appropriate.

Six Management Styles and When to Use Them

1. Commanding: “Do as I say or face the consequences.” This supervisor gives clear direction about what needs to be done and when. They tend to control work tightly and monitor it closely, and may rely on negative feedback to produce desired results. 

When to use: A commanding style may work in crisis situations, situations when there are concerns for physical safety, or when all else fails.

 

2. Visionary: “Here’s the vision and why it’s important.” Supervisors with this style value communicating the vision and getting buy-in for the path to realizing it. They like to explain the “why” behind decisions and use a balance of positive and negative feedback to motivate others. 

When to use: The visionary style works best in situations where there are new team members who need clear direction and the leader is seen as the expert or trusted authority.

 

3. Participative: “Let’s get everyone’s ideas.” This style provides lots of opportunity for gathering input and letting everyone have a say and sharing responsibility. Supervisors using this style believe that collecting group input will lead to better ideas and decisions. 

When to use: A participative style works with experienced team members where work is interdependent and when the leader is unclear about the best course of action.

 

4. Affiliative: “Let’s find better ways to work together.” This supervisor seeks to create a warm and inviting atmosphere. They like to make team members feel valued and included and recognize the emotional needs of colleagues to play a part in creating a productive work environment. 

When to use: An affiliative style works best when tasks are routine, team performance is adequate, and when working through conflict toward a harmonious solution.

 

5. Pacesetting: “Here, do it like this.” This style tends to lead by example and is focused on showing team members the right way to do things. Supervisors with this style have high expectations and take over quickly if standards are not met. 

When to use: The pacesetting style works best when team members can work independently and are capable and motivated to work to a high standard, and with poor performers who need step-by-step instructions for improvement.

 

6. Coaching: “Let’s bring out your potential.” Supervisors with this style focus on developing long-term capability by understanding employee’s strengths and aspirations. 

When to use: A coaching style works best with colleagues who are motivated to learn and grow, when employees need to take the initiative to find their own solutions, and when the team or organization is seeking innovation and willing to take a calculated risk.

Visit the Principles of Supervision and Supervision Certificate websites for more information.