The IT Director’s Guide to Picking a Management Style

2 October 2019


Every IT team has their own set of goals and ideas about how they’re going to accomplish them. The difference between reaching them and exceeding them, however, may come down to the management style of the person leading the team.

Indeed, the choice of management style is an important one. Projects, teams, tasks and businesses all need different management styles. Without the ability to adapt to the IT needs of the organisation, it’s tough to make progress in the right areas, which can hurt both the team and the business in the long run. The wrong style results in a loss in engagement, lower productivity, poorer quality of work and a drop in profitability.

To illustrate the importance of choosing a management style that fits, we’ll run through some of the more well-known and effective examples, defining their characteristics, advantages and disadvantages. We’ve also included a quiz to help guide you towards the style that’s right for you.

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Authoritarian Leadership


Audience listening to female speaker in blue suit


What is it?

Also referred to as the autocratic or directive management style, authoritarians manage through clear direction and control, asserting strong authority, absolute decision-making power and unquestioning obedience from those beneath them.

As such, teams governed by authoritarian management have clearly defined roles, strict hierarchies and reporting structures. Employees know their responsibilities and don’t have to question the roles of others. As such, authoritarian managers need to stay abreast of their team’s work and make decisions without the input of others. 


What are its advantages?

Despite its over-bearing name and nature, an authoritarian management style can positively affect employee performance when carried out properly. Most effective in workplaces with a more traditional culture and power dynamic where clear directions and standards are required, it also works well with new or inexperienced employees who need guidance and instruction.


What are its disadvantages?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, if the authoritarian style is too doggedly pursued, it can create a negative environment, leading to micromanagement and the under-development of employees.


Visionary Leadership


Team bonding over coffee


What is it?

Leaders who oversee their team in a way that speaks to the overall vision of the company are drawn to the visionary management style. Inspirational and charismatic, they lead with the team’s best interests in mind.

Rather than involving themselves in the day-to-day minutiae of an authoritarian, they motivate their team in such a way that everyone works towards the same goal, entrusting team members to complete individual objectives in a hands-off way.


What are its advantages?

This style helps to motivate employees to work towards common goals and solutions. In teams and offices where there may be a divide, the approach can get everyone aligned and on the same page. It’s also a great way for knowledgeable, experienced team members to thrive with little supervision.


What are its disadvantages?

There is perhaps a lack of focus on details that can lead to problems if there are inexperienced members on the team. Additionally, it requires a great deal of vision to work; if the leader lacks credibility, employees are unlikely to follow what the leader wants.


Transactional Leadership


High five to female colleague


What is it?

If you’re the type of manager who rewards employees for good performance, then you may have a transactional managerial style. Transactional managers rely on incentives, such as annual bonuses, to get team members to produce work at their desired rate.


What are its advantages?

Transactional management can be effective on a short-term basis, when you need to motivate your team to complete work that either needs to be done quickly or is met with resistance from the team. If a project needs to be finished soon, and overtime is required for a few weeks, then offering a reward can be beneficial.


What are its disadvantages?

Since this style is governed more by extrinsic rewards as opposed to intrinsic ones, like employee satisfaction, the long-term efficacy of transactional management is up for debate. Likewise, if you want to increase your team’s workload or hours indefinitely, it’s not ideal. And since these rewards are tied directly to known results, transactional styles don’t exactly foster creativity or innovation.


Servant Leadership




What is it?

Also known as the coaching, training or mentoring style, servant leadership is all about supporting employees. As opposed to someone who enforces the rules, adherents to this style use their strong interpersonal skills to coach and advise. Well-versed in both the jobs of their employees and in performance coaching, strong relationships flourish under servant leaderships.


What are its advantages?

If you’re looking for your team to grow and develop, then it’s a particularly effective style, allowing the bond between employee and manager to prosper. Trust, bonding and collaboration are always apparent in servant-led offices, with higher value placed on self-improvement as opposed to discipline, which makes it great for experienced professionals who feel they’ve plateaued.


What are its disadvantages?

The style doesn’t tend to hold much value for employees who are unmotivated or negative; support and coaching often fall flat, making any effort largely a waste of time. Additionally, the focus on learning and improvement takes the emphasis off output, which, in businesses where physical products or customer service are a priority, can be a problem.

It’s also very time-consuming; if you have limited time or you place greater importance on your own output, this isn’t the style for you.


Pacesetter Leadership


Team staying late in office to get work done


What is it?

Know your team likes to be challenged? Then the pacesetter style could be your ideal approach. Governed by a “lead from the front” mentality, the pacesetter is defined by setting high standards and dictating the pace to drive their team to achieve big objectives. It requires determination on both you and your team’s part, but can be rewarding if done right.


What are its advantages?

For driven, motivated types, pacesetting imbues the office with a greater sense of competition and accomplishment, and thus improves productivity. Conversely, teams that are not living up to their potential may benefit from the approach, as it can be an effective way of getting them out of a rut.


What are its disadvantages?

The constant need to meet targets can be draining on your team. Additionally, you need to make sure they’re capable of meeting your standards in the first place. If not, you’re just going to be setting yourself up for failure, the knock-on effects of which can be demoralising. And, if only one or two members can keep up with your pace, watch out for divisions.


Democratic Leadership



What is it?

As the name suggests, the democratic style is defined by the importance it places on everyone having a say, regardless of their position or title. Managers who heed this approach encourage idea-sharing and employee participation, so that solutions form freely and democratically.

Although the manager retains the final decision-making authority, the resolution is still reached with the input and insights of others, so it places a greater degree of value on the employee’s efforts compared to other management styles.


What are its advantages?

It encourages employees to solve their own problems and come up with innovative new ideas. From a management perspective, this means you don’t constantly need to rely on using your own ideas, and it’s a great way to help your team grow and develop.


What are its disadvantages?

It requires a lot of time and effort. It’s not the kind of style that works well in environments where quick decisions have to be made. And though the style – at least in theory – takes into account others’ input, if the suggestions of certain members of staff aren’t being seriously considered, they begin to resent such an approach.

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