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Management: What's Your Style?

(February 2001) posted on Thu Jul 26, 2001

Combs contrasts authoritative and cooperative management tactics, demonstrating the virtues and drawbacks of each.


By Terry Combs

Every manager knows that there is a right way and a wrong way to manage. The problem is, some managers can't seem to differentiate between an effective approach to management and a counterproductive one. Moreover, what may not be an effective style for one manager might be perfect for another. Some managers are hands on, maintaining control of everything and leaving few decisions to others. Then there's the type of manager who handles only the big issues and leaves smaller problems, details, and day-today issues in the hands of key employees or junior managers. With a little investigation, you can uncover what approach prevails in your own business and why. The thing to keep in mind is that management style is not a rigid suit of armor but a soft leather glove that must conform to the manager's personality and outlook. Hands-on entrepreneurial management Many screen-printing entrepreneurs start out and continue to opt for the "fingers in everything" management style. The owner/manager is totally hands on and delegates little responsibility to other employees. The only way this manager can sleep at night is by running the company with first-hand knowledge and participating in every company department and function. Most managers won't actually admit this is their style, since management books and magazine articles these days portray it as a less-than-desirable approach. But hey, if it's your style, it's your style. Plenty of companies are succeeding and even thriving under this type of management structure. Besides, the problem isn't so much this management style, but the half-hearted attempts at delegating authority that hands-on managers often make. What happens when you pretend that you are participating in delegation management, but you don't really let it happen? Before long, those employees to whom you've pretended to give authority become disenchanted. Employees who accidentally discover that they don't have any say in their work environment become disgruntled, and a general feeling of distrust will permeate through your business. Next thing you know, your best people will leave for better opportunities, while the employees left behind shift into auto pilot. To combat the crumbling walls around you, you'll likely fall back on the excuse that you are forced to do it all yourself. And the cycle repeats itself over and over. You'd be way ahead of the game by admitting your desire for absolute authority to both yourself and your staff right up front. It's a matter of deciding who you are and how you choose to manage, then learning to live with it. If you decide on a totally hands-on management style, you can expect to be in the office almost every day and available by phone when you're not there. Of course, your employees will probably live up to and work up to your expectations, since other than asking them to show up and follow your prescribed plan, you expect very little from them. It can be a confining management style, but some people thrive on it. While hands-on management let's you do all the things that you enjoy, it also saddles you with tasks that you probably don't enjoy. And if business growth is you're goal, there is only so much you can accomplish toward that goal while you're busy holding all the reins. The biggest problem with this approach is that you can become so bogged down in minute details that the big decisions are left untended until they reach a state of crisis. If you want to maintain that feeling of total control, but want to expand your operation, only one good option is available--farm out certain business functions. Five years ago, I thought it was quite a coup to have my artist working from his home, which meant I didn't have to supply a workspace and tools for him. Now, it's a common thing for professionals to perform certain functions for companies from their home offices and work totally on a contractual basis. The Internet is laden with sites that feature thousands of these professionals, including artists, accountants, marketing people, and payroll services, to name a few. Of course, screen printing is a manufacturing process, so production functions will always have to be performed in house. But orders that are too big, too small, or too specialized also can be easily outsourced to other printers who specialize in that type of work. Team management The opposite of hands-on management is team management. Screen-printing management teams can be fairly simple, since the process itself is functionally simple. In smaller companies, two or three team members may be sufficient to represent the key areas of the operation. In larger shops, the teams may have more members, but these managers will represent the same areas--administration, sales and marketing, and production departments. The critical issue here is to make sure that members of the management team have the authority to implement the team's decisions in their specific areas of concern. If your business was developed from the ground up, you've probably evolved from a single hands-on management system to a leader-and-team concept. You delegate to employees who serve on the management team, but most likely you remain in charge of the big decisions. Screen printing lends itself to this style. If a business begins with a good idea, a little capital, and a little technical experience, it probably grows. And as it grows, it acquires good workers that develop into good managers. Where management roles are difficult to fill from within, the company attracts home-grown managers from similar businesses. The transition from a hands-on management structure to a leader-and-team environment can be a difficult transition for employees. Workers who once had the leader's ear find a new manager between themselves and the boss. And a gradual transition doesn't ease the discomfort. When you're in the middle of such a transition, make your strategy plain and clear. Explain to your employees that this change is designed to improve the decision-making process and make everyone's life easier. To sell this "new deal" to your employees, promote the new opportunities that will be available to each and every one of them under the new structure. Companies based on partnerships between individuals hold some additional challenges. Here, instead of a single company leader with final authority, you have more than one individual sharing the role of head honcho. I've personally had some nightmarish experiences with this form of management, but it seems to work for some. The advantage is that in a partnership, you share the drive for company success with others who are willing to take the same risks. The drawbacks are the differences in goals, methods, and management tactics each partner will bring to the table. The best way to avoid confrontations and stalemates in decision making among partners is to divide authority along natural lines, with each partner taking responsibility for one or more areas of the operation that they're best suited to handle and recognizing the sovereignty of other partners in their respective areas. Be true to yourself The key to finding an effective management style is knowing yourself and being honest. To help you find a matching style, you might try discussing your business personality with someone you trust and respect, a person who isn't afraid to tell you about your qualities and your shortcomings. Determine whether you like to control it all or if you thrive on assistance from other responsible individuals. With a little soul searching, the management style that fits you best should become clear.


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