If you’ve been in the workforce for some time, you’ve probably experienced mixed styles of management during different parts of your career. You can likely point out leaders in the landscaping industry who took the time to focus on your strengths while encouraging you to reach for excellence. By the same token, you may remember managers who seemed more preoccupied with their compensation than the individual progress of each member of the team. There’s no question that managers are an integral part of any organization; however, when leading others, what they do is sometimes just as important as how they do it.
Not too long ago, a colleague of mine who works at a large national university shared a problem her institution was having with some professors who had recently been promoted as heads of departments: the irregularity in their management style. Many of these professors, who were recently asked to lead an entire team of administrative workers, had spent the bulk of their professional careers researching, often working with small teams of two or three, and sometimes even alone. To manage a large team of direct reports was new to these accomplished professors, and without the appropriate training, the teams they were asked to lead underperformed, their productivity as managers suffered, and their expertise in their chosen field didn’t translate well in their new roles.
This real-life example, of course, can apply to many industries, including landscaping and snow and ice management. When you’re trying to grow your business, you must instill consistency in your management practices, so your team can focus on what they do best, instead of having to manage unrealistic expectations from an uneven management style. The more stability a good manager provides, the better the team tends to perform. With the right management style in place, a high-performing team also facilitates a company’s scalable opportunities, and that’s good for business.
Perhaps you have a stellar field installer on your staff who needs to take on the role of managing one of your company’s teams. How will they perform? What leadership training is in place to ensure they’re successful not only in the field but also in the office? How will they drive your company’s growth further?
As a contractor looking to grow your outdoor living business, it’s important that you recognize the three main types of leadership styles. These methods can directly influence the members of your team as well as how your organization deals with customers. The styles are autocratic, democratic, and laissez-faire. These distinct management behaviors were the result of a large foundational study in the early 20th century that still applies today. And, just like pairing the right nutrients with the right plants to produce the desired results, each management style has its pros and cons and can work well depending on the setting in which you use them.
Autocratic Leadership Style
An autocratic leadership style is an authoritarian, manager-centered method that focuses most, if not all decision-making on the boss. This approach concentrates on the leader providing communication and guidance, leaving little to no room for employees to contribute. Policies, instructions, and group activities come directly from the manager and team members are expected to comply.
There are instances, however, where this approach is appropriate. When a quick, decisive judgment is necessary, such as a crisis where the manager doesn’t have enough time to collect input, this style can prove effective and avoid hurdles for the organization. Another potential benefit of this style can be seen when low-skilled workers need to be told or shown exactly what to do, like when onboarding a new team member or when providing critical training on specific jobs — like operating an auger or a skid steer for the first time.
An autocratic leadership method can accomplish positive results under limited circumstances, but workers are not likely to thrive and have a higher likelihood to exit a group or an organization when this is the go-to style of choice.
Democratic Leadership Style
Unlike the autocratic style, a democratic manager takes more of a collaborative approach with their team. These managers are likely to listen to a variety of opinions from employees before deciding on a specific conclusion. With a two-heads-are-better-than-one philosophy, these supervisors rely on team members’ input to tackle a variety of work-related challenges.
The leader still retains the authority over the final call on any given issue, but a democratic leader typically assigns the power to the team, particularly when those decisions directly influence the team’s jobs. For example, when a department needs to acquire new equipment or tools, a democratic leader would likely give some basic criteria on cost or compatibility but then delegate the final decision to each employee and let them purchase their equipment.
This style does present some drawbacks, such as when a leader has confidence that each employee will perform outlined tasks and complete projects, even if unsupervised. But when an employee is not as prepared, the democratic style may not produce results as expected.
Also, when a situation is high-pressure and time is fleeting, keeping a democratic style of leadership — where a manager would normally gather plenty of input — may not work well. When an event may require a quick decision and consensus can’t be reached, the manager may have to make a call that could create disagreement among the workers.
Having said that, many direct reports have a high level of satisfaction and prefer to work under this method of supervision, given the flexibility and common two-way communication with their managers.
Laissez-Faire Leadership Style
The French term laissez-faire means to “let do” or to “let them do it.” The term is used to express how governments shouldn’t interfere with the handling of an economy. Similarly, this is when a supervisor pulls back and gives employees plenty of space and autonomy to make decisions and solve problems. It’s truly a hands-off leadership style.
Here, a manager sets goals and expectations where workers have a clear direction but have the freedom to make their own decisions. For the employee, this can be a very empowering style, giving them autonomy and independence. This method tends to work well when employees have a high level of skill, motivation, and education. If you’re leading top-echelon professionals like doctors, lawyers, creatives, etc., this style can prove to be successful.
In practice, however, this management style does not have the best reputation, and managers are still responsible for leadership outcomes. A common complaint about this style is that managers may have too few things for workers to do, creating uncertainty, lack of clarity and stress.
As a busy outdoor living professional, it’s essential to practice these classic styles of leadership, but it’s crucial to know when to employ each style. Different settings will require different approaches. As a multi-faceted leader, you can secure your company’s future and prepare workers to positively contribute to the growth of your organization.
Keep in mind that each style has its positives and negatives, and a complex work setting may require a bit of all three to strike the right balance. Establishing the right management style for your outdoor living business can be the differentiator between a good company versus a great company.