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Leader's Edge Sense of Style

Smart managers take a thoughtful approach to each circumstance and tailor their approach to best fit the situation.

By  Julia Kramer

Management theories come and go and with them innumerable iterations of “the best” management style. Faced with so much information and so many different approaches, how do you make sense of it all and choose one that’s best for you? In my opinion, you shouldn’t choose! The best management style is not a single style, but a combination of styles which, when accessorized with your own unique and authentic abilities, yield an effective management approach that will fit you like a glove.

The key to developing your own best style is to look in your closet of options. Based on the situation at hand, pick the option that best fits the circumstances. How to know what’s in the closet? Take a look at the following short list of common styles. Remember, you don’t have to pick just one. In fact, it’s better not to.

The Taskmaster. Focused on the task at hand, the deadline looming and the problem waiting to be solved, The Taskmaster rarely puts down her to-do list to develop her motivational and creative skills. To her credit, The Taskmaster gets the job done and gets it done on time. She’s probably well within budget and the quality of her team’s work product is high. On the flip side, she and her staff focus only on their immediate objectives with no time for inventiveness, initiative and big-picture thinking. If Taskmaster is your go-to style, try adding a touch of Innovator to complete the look.

The Innovator is not content with the status quo, gets bored once things start to hum, and is constantly seeking a better or more exciting way of doing things. She lives on the cutting edge and wouldn’t have it any other way. Look to The Innovator for new ideas, process improvement and quality initiatives, and include her in brainstorming sessions. Unfortunately, those reporting to an Innovator may be exhausted by constant change, confused by lack of clear direction and unsure of priorities. Balance your Innovator tendencies with a splash of Taskmaster for great results.

The Warden. The desire for order, rules, policies and procedures is the hallmark of The Warden. She works best in a structured, hierarchical environment where everything has its place and everyone follows the same playbook. A Warden is valuable during a time of change because, although she might resist change, afterwards he will seek to reestablish order—order that will relieve the stress that change brings to everyone. The downside is that he may not understand the need for flexibility and compassion and may be seen as rigid and unfeeling. The Warden and The Camp Director could learn a few things from each other.

The Camp Director keeps people’s feelings his first order of business. He’s well-liked, fun, warm and friendly—and wants to keep it that way. While a commendable goal, frequently the Camp Director has a hard time making and communicating difficult personnel decisions. Ask a Camp Director to be part of a decision-making team and he’ll pepper the conversation with phrases like “people aren’t going to like this,” or “I don’t think we should make this change so close to the holidays.” If you are your firm’s Camp Director, acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of this style. Challenge yourself to balance the objective needs of the business with the subjective needs of the people to ensure the most positive outcome.

The Follower. Tell her what to do and it’ll get done. Armed with marching orders, The Follower is a force to be reckoned with. She’s very loyal and doesn’t question authority. She’s most comfortable in a one-down situation when the top position is filled by a powerful and decisive leader. Typically valued by senior executives, The Follower is included during the execution stages of an initiative. If he’s included in development, typically he’ll listen carefully but make only minor contributions. If you’re a follower, step it up and be more of a player lest you be overlooked by your peers.

The Hero. We all love a hero—that person in shining armor who’s larger than life and saves the day. The Hero practically glows in the dark when we are in our darkest hour. While exciting and compelling, a hero is not necessarily a strong leader but is a dramatic problem solver, quick with a solution, and unafraid to take a bullet to save the day. God love ‘em. If you have an affinity for heroism, enjoy the spotlight, but every once in a while take off your cape and make sure that the effects of your actions are valuable in the long-term.

Management is difficult, but finding that one perfect management style is impossible. Smart managers make sense of style choices and don’t don and doff their approaches like a runway model changing outfits back stage. Smart managers take a thoughtful approach to each circumstance and subtly but effectively tailor their approach to best fit the situation and achieve the desired effect.

KRAMER IS THE COUNCIL’S SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT.


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