Ever felt Trapped in a Box? Management Styles

In my work with SMEs there’s one challenge that comes time and time again and it’s this:

  • The business owner would like to grow the business
  • But they are already working far too many hours
  • So in order to grow, they need to employee more people
  • But they can’t afford to do that because there isn’t enough money to pay them
  • And the business owner can’t generate more money because they’re already working flat-out


The traditional solution to this situation is to recommend that the business owner creates systems and trains the team to operate them. Ultimately, better systems will be part of the solution. But the trouble with relying entirely on a systems-based approach that is that creating systems in itself takes time, which is the one thing the business owner doesn’t have much of. Another problem with a systems approach is that many SMEs are dependent for their existence on their ability to solve complex problems for clients by applying their expertise, whether that’s in accountancy or design, law or brand insight. They’re not McDonald’s style businesses. 

If all this sounds familiar, maybe it’s time to look at your management skills. After all, if you could get more productivity from your existing people you wouldn’t need to recruit in order to grow. So let’s have a closer look at the basics of management…

If you were to ask the average person on the street about management, they would probably say they were two types of manager: the tough, no-nonsense type and the easy-going type. And to an extent they would be right.

The tough, no-nonsense type of manager dictates. He dictates precisely what to do, when to do it, how it should be done and even where it should be done. This authoritarian approach works largely through fear. So it works best when the manager is close by. Once his back is turned the team member’s performance will very often fall off and the team member may even feel resentment and, either consciously or subconsciously, sabotage the process.

The easy-going type the will focus more on building good relationships with their team members through encouragement and supportive behaviour. The trouble with a relationship based approach is that there may not be enough instruction as to how to the task should be done and more likely than not, little or no feedback and corrective instruction. So it can end up failing because the team member hasn’t been taught how to do the task properly.

Next time you’re delegating a task, why not try combining both these approaches. Explain very clearly the what, when and how of what needs to be done. But at the same time invest more time in developing your relationship with the team member by offering encouragement and support. And when showing them how the job should be done, don’t just leave the team member to get on with it. Test their ability in a low risk environment by engaging in role-play or some other activity that allows them to practice without serious consequences if things don’t go right. And finally, get them to check back with you early on so you can see how things are going and make corrections sooner rather than later.

Once the team member has mastered the task you can move to a more relationship based approach unless and until a problem arises, in which case you may have to revert to a task focused approach.

By becoming more competent in these different styles of management and more conscious about when they are appropriate you are giving yourself more options. It’s one of the first steps to freedom for a business owner.

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