Different Supervisory Styles of Managers

by Chelsea Levinson - Updated June 11, 2018
Supervisor  monitoring shipping work

Put simply, a supervisory style is how you approach leading others. Your supervisory style includes how you communicate, motivate, direct and manage employees. As anyone who has ever had a manager knows, there are several different types of supervisory styles. Research shows that leadership styles are deeply tied to workplace outcomes. Understanding how each supervisory style functions can help you become a better leader and achieve better results with your team.

What Are Supervisory Styles?

A supervisory style is your approach to directing, managing, motivating and communicating with employees. There are many leadership styles, each with their strengths and weaknesses. While certain supervisory styles are commonly considered superior methods, the reality is that no leadership style is one-size-fits-all. A good leader knows when and how to use the various supervisory styles to maximize results from her team.

Your supervisory style says a lot about how you lead people, including how you communicate, how controlling you are and how much input you allow into your decision-making process. Further, your supervisory style says a lot about your results. There has been quite a bit of research dedicated to studying leadership methods and how effective they are. One style might achieve high productivity and low morale while another brings in high-quality results at a slower pace. For the best possible results, it’s important to understand the unique traits of every supervisory style, along with the pros and cons of each.

Types of Supervisory Styles

Depending on where you look, you can find many supervisory styles defined. However, the most widely understood styles are the following:

  • Coaching: A coaching leader focuses on one-on-one development with an employee. This relationship often looks like that of a mentor and mentee. The coach helps develop an individual to get the most out of their performance, priming them for bigger things. First, the coach must learn the worker’s strengths and weaknesses. Then, it’s time to hone their skills and take them to the next level. Coaching is an excellent supervisory style to use when an employee or team member is struggling or becoming disengaged from their work. It can also work for highly motivated individuals who are looking to gain promotion. In any case, coaching is a motivating style of leadership. However, it may be difficult to implement for an entire team, especially if it’s a large team.
  • Affiliative: An affiliative leader encourages teamwork and brings workers together. Affiliative leadership is often used to boost morale or bring a disjointed team together. This style of leadership is positive, encouraging and social. That said, the affiliative supervisory style doesn’t work in all contexts. It’s great to connect employees and boost engagement with one another. This style of leadership is best used in conjunction with other leadership styles.
  • Pacesetting: A pacesetting leader sets a high bar and expects all employees to reach it. This leader is continually working to improve performance, efficiency and outcomes. While pacesetting can be motivating up to a point, this supervisory style can occasionally leave employees feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Nobody wants to feel like they are constantly failing. If the bar is being set too high and goals are not achievable (or goals are only attainable by overextending oneself) employees will eventually lose motivation. For this reason, pacesetting should be used sparingly, and in concurrence with other supervisory styles.
  • Transformational: A transformational leader wants nothing more than to make a change. This person motivates every team member with their strong communication skills, empathy and vision. Transformational leaders have a high level of social intelligence and a knack for elevating everyone around them. If anyone can realize the potential of an organization, it’s a transformational leader. Transformational leadership is often cited as the most desired and successful supervisory style.
  • Transactional: A transactional leader prefers to establish a clear chain of command, with every person on the team having a defined role. This person treats work as a transaction. Good work is rewarded, while poor work is frowned upon. In some ways, this can be motivating to employees, as they are driven by the potential reward of a job well done. However, the transactional leader doesn’t leave much room for creativity or out-of-the-box thinking. This leader likes to keep things neat and traditional.
  • Servant: A servant leader is the ultimate team player. Tending to lead by example, this person motivates all those around them. Sometimes, a servant leader is not in an official position of leadership, yet others naturally gravitate towards their example. These leaders work hard, show integrity and embody strong company values. A servant leader also consults all team members on decisions. Further, this leader is likely to take responsibility for team failures, while giving the team all of the credit for wins. Employees usually feel respect and loyalty for leaders who use this supervisory style.
  • Autocratic (authoritarian): An autocratic leader makes all the decisions without the input of the team. This person believes they know best, and doesn’t trust others to take the lead. Autocratic leaders are controlling and authoritative. They don’t leave much room for input. While common, this supervisory style can cause employees to lose interest in work, or check out completely.
  • Laissez-faire (delegative): A laissez-faire or delegative leader is the polar opposite of an autocratic leader. This person lets their employees do what they wish with relatively little supervision or direction. The delegative leader exercises a hands-off approach, allowing workers to handle tasks as they see fit. In some cases, this supervisory style makes sense. One example would be in a creative field when the team is highly experienced, and team members perform best independently. However, for a team that requires direction and communication, a delegative leadership style is less than ideal.
  • Democratic/participatory: A democratic or participative leader includes team member input in all decisions, but ultimately makes the final call. This leader also encourages the team’s creativity and engagement in projects. Because of the participatory process, teams under democratic leaders can have slower results and lower productivity. However, employees turn in higher quality work under democratic leadership and enjoy a high level of job satisfaction. This leadership style is known as one of the strongest supervisory styles.
  • Bureaucratic: The bureaucratic leader is a stickler for the rules, and prefers to follow procedures to the letter. For certain highly-regulated industries such as manufacturing work, or jobs where safety is a chief concern, bureaucratic leadership is successful. In creative or problem-solving fields, this supervisory style is likely too strict and by-the-book.
  • Charismatic (visionary): A charismatic leader has a large, undeniable presence. This person’s strong personality tends to inspire loyalty among their team members. A charismatic leader is highly influential. On the other hand, this type of leader is often bigger than the team or organization itself. A charismatic leader’s personality is at the center of their work, and a project may fail without the leader’s involvement. Further, this leader is often so focused on their vision that they lose sight of other priorities.
  • Situational: A situational leader utilizes elements from every type of leadership when necessary. This style of leadership is adaptive and flexible. A situational leader chooses the supervisory style a particular situation calls for. Because of this, many experts consider situational leadership to be among the strongest styles of leadership.

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Most Effective Supervisory Styles

Many leadership experts believe the best supervisory approach is to use a combination of styles. With that said, there are a few supervisory styles that are considered the most effective of the bunch. The first is transformational leadership. To be a solid transformational leader, you must have several skills and traits. You must have integrity, emotional intelligence, self-awareness and authenticity. Further, you must have a strong vision, and be able to communicate that vision effectively to others. Transformational leaders tend to transform everyone around them in positive ways and are known for getting the best out of their team. Some transformational leaders can be a bit too visionary, lacking detailed strategic thinking. With an approach that looks at the big picture as well as the particulars, a transformational leader can be a game changer for a business.

Another effective supervisory style is the democratic approach. This type of leadership involves the participation of all employees. By including every team member’s unique expertise and perspective, a democratic leader often achieves high-quality results. However, this approach can take more time than other methods. A democratic supervisory approach may not squeeze the most productivity out of a team, but it will encourage them to deliver their best work.

Finally, a situational supervisory style is extremely effective. This leadership style might be the best case scenario, as it incorporates all supervisory styles, only when they are needed. A situational supervisor is flexible with their approach. For example, a coaching method may work well with one employee on the team, while another more independent worker will thrive with laissez-faire leadership. Situational leadership allows you to adapt to whatever style is needed at the moment, achieving the best results without the drawbacks. Of course, a lot of skill and training is ultimately required to adopt this method of leadership.

How to Change Supervisory Styles

If you are looking to change your supervisory style, there are a few actions to consider. The first step to changing or improving your leadership style is understanding what type of leader you are now. Take stock of your strengths and weaknesses. How do you handle your employees? What is your communication style? Pay attention to how you deal with various situations and make a note any time you notice that you are using one of the defined leadership styles.

Educate yourself on further supervisory styles. There are many leadership programs, classes and resources available to those looking to enhance their skills. Take advantage and learn everything you can about each leadership approach and how to implement it. This learning process is an especially important step if you plan on taking an adaptive style.

With your new leadership skills at the ready, begin adapting your new approach. In each situation, think about what you are trying to achieve and how you can reach the results you desire. Choose the supervisory style that will best help you meet your objectives. For example, if an employee is struggling to meet deadlines, you likely want to avoid a pacesetting approach until that employee's confidence is built up. This employee might also require coaching to get up to speed. Or, say your team suffers a major disappointment, such as a canceled project that everyone put a lot of work into. This is a good time for the affiliative approach. You could do this by bringing the team together for a pizza party to celebrate their hard work. Perhaps you could have them each say something they learned from the experience. This can foster bonding and help reframe a negative experience into a positive one, thus boosting team morale.

Remember to remain flexible. Your approach may change depending on the circumstances. You can always continue to adjust your style as necessary.

About the Author

Chelsea Levinson earned her B.S. in Business from Fordham University and her J.D. from Cardozo. She is a small business owner who has created content for Bank of America, H&R Block, CNBC, AOL and many more.

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