"Clients do not come first," billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson famously said. "Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients."
The traditional image of authoritative managers who stay in their office and only come out to discipline wayward employees is increasingly a thing of the past. The changes influencing leadership styles are both societal and economic.
The Evolving Workplace Environment
The turbulent civil and women's rights movements of the 1960s and '70s created a workplace environment that was more welcoming toward women and minorities at all levels of leadership. As the hierarchical structures within society began to break down, so too did expectations for management styles. Today, business leaders increasingly espouse a collaborative approach to managing employees. Whereas traditional leadership styles emphasize a top-down approach to resolving conflicts within companies, collaborative leaders openly seek input from employees at all hierarchical levels.
In a 2017 article in Training Industry, authors Dr. Steve J. Stowell and Stephanie Mead described collaboration as an "increasingly important capability in leading the modern workforce."
"Collaboration combines the knowledge, experience and creativity of others and creates shared accountability," they said. "A collaborative approach isn't always easy; hearing others out and letting them have their say requires a measure of patience. However, there are some significant benefits that come from collaboration, even when it's hard or inefficient: People discover new insights, become less dependent on the 'boss,' develop and learn, increase their capacity for innovation, and become more committed and passionate about decisions and plans."
New Trends Within Business Leadership
Author Jory MacKay highlighted five essential elements of a successful business team for Inc. The findings were based on a study of 55 teams within large successful companies like the BBC, Marriott and Pixar.
MacKay found that successful teams have leaders who champion collaboration. Demonstrating collaborative leadership is easier in small companies, he said. Effective leadership requires that workers perceive managers as being there to help, not judge.
Good leaders, he continued, share knowledge and experience freely. Rather than seeking a formal mentorship-type program, the best teams had a looser dynamic where leaders actively navigated projects while seeking input from team members.
Effective teams maintain a sense of community, MacKay noted. Allowing time for team members to chat about what's affecting their personal lives is one way to foster a community within the work environment.
MacKay's fourth insight involves the importance of task and relationship goals. Good teams know how and when to pivot from one to the other.
"Specifically, leaders need to start projects in a more task-oriented mannerâ€Š -- making goals clear, clarifying roles and responsibilities and debating about the best way to move forward," MacKay said. "However, at a certain point they must switch to being more relationship-oriented. This structure is important to remember when working through a project. Instead of obsessing over the details and hitting goals, remember to take a pulse of how your team is feeling along the way. Start with clear individual goals but finish with teamwork."
Finally, effective teams understand the difference between role clarity and task ambiguity, meaning employees should be given clear goals but then allowed to implement them freely without a dictatorial manager questioning every step along the way.
Writer Laura Handrick described 10 popular management styles and the pros and cons of each for the online publication FitSmallBusiness. The strategic management style focuses on the "big picture in terms of the vision of the company and the brand," she said.
"Strategic managers are typically 'hands-off' once they have transferred the vision to those who will execute it," she said. "They are the opposite of micro-managers because once they determine and communicate a vision, they tend to trust their employees' progress toward those goals."
The leadership approach, she continued, works to motivate employees to buy into a company's vision. One potential downfall, though, is that the lack of focus on details can make it hard to measure progress.
The transformational leadership style "focuses on leading transitions, adopting innovation and getting ahead of the curve."
While the approach is more likely to remain relevant as the pertinent industry evolves, some employees may be resentful to rapid changes in business practices.
"If you like new ideas, are a fan of innovation and are often on the cutting edge of your industry, this management style might suit you," she said. "It works well in startups where rapid change is occurring."
With more than a dozen leadership styles now accepted and used in the modern workplace environment, a deep understanding of these various approaches to management has become an integral part of many Master of Business Administration degrees. The online MBA with a specialization in Management from La Salle University examines these leadership styles through a curriculum that stresses the blending of theoretical knowledge with real-world applications. Graduates leave with the tools to thrive under a variety of management styles while developing their own approach to leadership.
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