Guest post by Stephen Meyer
What makes Project Managers successful?
Of course, there’s no single answer to this question. Some understand how to work with diverse personalities and know what it takes to keep people focused. Others are masters of navigating conflicting agendas and ensuring that deadlines are met. And others are meticulous minders of details — never missing an opportunity to cross a “t” or dot an “i”.
But there’s one thing that the best, most valued Project Managers have in common. They’re artful leaders. They understand that using a single management style in every situation won’t get results. They deploy a repertoire of styles according to the personalities and experience of team members, time constraints and specific goals.
Here are five of the most common leadership style and guidelines on when to use them.
The Command & Control Style
This style is appropriate when you know the best way to do something and the person you’re working with does not. It’s very effective when dealing with beginners. They need specific direction and you’re the best person around to get them started.
Command & Control is also useful, and often required, in a crisis. If your servers go down and you’re losing $1,000 a minute, you need a take-charge project leader who tells people exactly what to do to fix the problem.
All great managers know how to deploy this style convincingly when a situation calls for it.
But be careful. The Command & Control Style is ineffective in most other situations. And it’s seductive. It can lead you to believe, “I’ve got all the answers.” Well, you don’t, especially as projects become more complex and you need people to take initiative. Project Managers who over-rely on this style devalue people and reinforce learned helplessness. What’s worse, it can frustrate top performers and cause them to leave.
The Relating Management Style
Effective Project Managers build rapport among people on their team. They encourage them to bond with each other, work as a team and focusing people on common goals.
They also know what it takes to build rapport with their people. They can relate to those they work with, they’re likable and social. They take a sincere interest in the lives of team members. When they ask about someone’s family or personal interests, they’re using the Relating Style.
Surely, there couldn’t be a downside to being a Relator. But there is. Managers who rely too heavily on this style don’t make tough decisions. They don’t take charge in a crisis. And they don’t push people hard enough to perform. They seem to think management is some sort of popularity contest. It is not.
The Democratic Management Style
The Democratic style is all about gaining buy-in and building team consensus. It lets team members know that you value their input and that you’re open to hearing new ideas and suggestions.
Let’s explore a situation where all great managers deploy the Democratic style; Planning. You want to plan democratically for two reasons:
- First, when you get input from lots of people, particularly those who will actually implement the plan – your plan will be reality-based and you’ll be less likely to leave out something that’s mission critical.
- Second, when you plan democratically, people feel their voice has been heard and they “own” the plan. Obviously, you need to sign off on the final draft, adding and subtracting as necessary. But by planning democratically you avoid the worst possible scenario – where detached leaders devise a plan in isolation and then hand it off. The implementers will resent not being asked for their input, and they’ll fight it tooth and nail.
Great managers understand this. They deploy the democratic style in planning activities and get buy-in from all key stakeholders.
This managerial style can be overused, however. We just talked about how planning needs to be democratic. But execution often requires an autocratic style. Imagine that an entire department gets behind on a project and could cause your company to miss a mission critical deadline. That’s no time for consensus building, is it? You need a tough manager who can light a fire under people and hit the deadline.
The Hands-On Style
This approach works when project managers need to step in and get the job done. If a team member can’t figure out how to finish the job, the leader can model the way by taking over the task to ensure it gets completed.
But don’t rely too heavily on this style. Hands-On managers are often high performers who really are more competent than others, and their natural tendency is fix problems themselves, even if people only asked for their advice.
Caution: Like Command & Control approach, it can be disempowering and lead to low morale.
The Coaching Management Style
Effective coaches believe in the old proverb, “If I give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If I teach him to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” They understand the value of asking questions that direct people to uncover their own solutions. They advise and follow up to be sure people meet their goals on time.
Coaching is about the long-term development of people. For managers who over-rely on the Command and Control and Hands On styles – both of which achieve short-term objectives — the coaching style is the one that most needs to be developed.
You won’t master the five managerial styles just by reading this article. But you can commit to broadening your repertoire. Managerial styles are like muscles in the body. They develop when you use them and atrophy when you don’t. Later today, use the Relating Style with your people. Tomorrow, set up a coaching session. The next day, schedule a planning meeting where you use the Democratic Style. And so on. Practice makes perfect.
Stephen Meyer is CEO and Director of Learning and Development at the Rapid Learning Institute. Prior to starting the Rapid Learning Institute and its parent company Business 21 in 2002, Steve was the Director of Publishing at The Hay Group, a leading HR, benefits and compensation consulting firm. Stephen is the writer of Rapid Learning Institute’s Training and Development Insights Blog.
The Product Management Perspective: Product managers work with project managers all the time. This is great advice for all of us.