Managerial styles is a very subjective topic. It is subjective to an organisations hierarchical structure, its size, its role, and the manager’s role in the ecosystem. For this post, I would like to talk about effective managers, their attributes, regardless of the organisation. The single attribute we want to carry forward is that a managers responsibility is to maximize the performance of the organisation.
In order to make the post easier to digest, I will tailor some of the examples to a topic most of my readers can identify with; a software development manager in a product delivery organisation.
Day to day operations
There are large periods of time when an organisation remains constant relative to change. The focus during this time is centered around leveling out and controlling the amount of change occurring in order to mitigate risk, give the organisation a chance to master current processes, stabilize fluctuations, increase predictability, etc…
Change is being driven
There are times when change is being driven for various reasons such as: shifting focus to critical issues, adopting new processes to improve efficiency, re-architecture of systems, etc… These scenarios introduce risk and require extra attention and oversight to minimize the amount of disruption the organisation faces.
As visualized by the chart above, change causes fluctuations in productivity. The goal of most change is to increase productivity once the change is fully implemented. Mitigating the volatility in productivity during this transitional phase is critical. Because of this requirement, we must acknowledge that management, during this period, requires a different style of leadership.
An example of change that may happen during this period would be moving from a waterfall to an agile development methodology, implementing a new technology such as NOSQL databases into a product, focusing on addressing bug over creating new features, etc…
Classically, most people would identify two main styles of leadership, hands on and hands off. While we can easily identify and attribute qualities to each, we should also explore a third style that most of us innately recognize, the “dynamic leadership model”.
Hands off Leadership Model
Hands off managers manage their team by delegating responsibility to team leads. They do not interfere with the day to day operations or the details of managing their teams, even during the times of change. In our example, this would be the equivalent of the manager utilizing the team/tech leads as the interface to the team as a whole.
If we were to plot a graph correlating the effectiveness of a hands off manager relative to the amount of change occurring in their organisation, it would look like:
These managers are effective when the business is not experiencing change. Productivity can be predictable and output is fairly level. Their hands off approach allows them to minimize their interference with line employees.
During times of change, however, these managers have a hard time controlling volatility and predictability. This fluctuation can stem from:
- Direct reports might not meet goals or complete assigned tasks that are crucial in the change management process thus presenting risk
- Direct reports have a hard time developing skills because there is no direct coaching or support which stifles growth
- Change is usually slow to occur because the managers are not actively involved in driving the change forward and ensuring it reached its full potential
The hands off leadership model is usually chosen by newly promoted managers, citing the trust that exists in the relationships as the main reason for choosing this model.
Hands on Leadership Model
Hands on managers are at the opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to the amount of involvement they have with line teams. They are directly tied to the day to day operations of their teams, they bypass the organisational structure and issue instructions to line employees directly bypassing leads, and they are usually unable to effectively delegate.
If we were to plot a graph correlating the effectiveness of a hands on manager relative to the amount of change occurring in their organisation, it would look like:
These managers are relatively effective when the business is experiencing a lot of change due to their active participation in the teams. They can dynamically adjust strategies due to the knowledge and awareness that is inherently attributed to this type of involvement.
Consequently, these managers suffer from poor performance during times of slow change in the organisation. As described above, this models inability to delegate, scale themselves via their leads, and constant interference with the line team members cause a drop in their ability to effectively handle the situation.
These managers exhibit the following attributes:
- Unwillingness to relieve control
- The citing of perfectionism as rationale to control
- Workaholic tendencies needed to keep up with both the managerial and active involvement they undertake resulting in poor overall performance
- Inability or unwillingness to take new approaches
In our example, this would be a manager dictating what framework to use for a new project, writing code alongside the developers, taking the role of tech or team leads, etc…
Dynamic Leadership Model
As we have discussed, the hands on and hands off models are both suited to different ends of the spectrum in relation to the amount of change that is present in an organisation. Because the amount of change in an organisation fluctuates over time, the percentage of each model that is appropriate at any point in time varies. Thus our “Dynamic Leadership” model emerges.
First, lets plot a graph correlating the aggregate effectiveness of both a hands on manager and a hands off manger to the amount of change occurring in an organisation.
If we combine the attributes of both of the models we can achieve maximum effectiveness regardless of the amount of change occurring in the organisation. As change is being driven, a more hands on approach drives higher effectiveness. Inversely, easing the amount of day to day involvement and delegating during times of more predictable operations results in increased efficiency. This is why the model is called dynamic!
Dynamic leaders exhibit the following attributes:
- They coach and mentor direct reports, helping them grow
- They are active in day to day activities during times of change, such as when implementing a new development methodology,
- They rely on delegation to their direct reports in order to scale themselves
- Play an active role in starting tasks
- Following up
- Showing commitment to organisational goals
- Switching between hands on and hands off continuously and as needed
- They adjust all of these levels on the fly
The best leader is one that is dynamic and adjusts to the requirements of the organisation. Being agile, being able to adjust your approach on the fly and react to your environment is the best way to ensure maximum effectiveness. Choosing one approach limits your ability to effectively deal with the dynamic nature of business and team dynamics.
Dynamic leaders are not born overnight. Experience, passion, drive, and other attributes create dynamic leaders. Knowledge and experience help the dynamic leader judge the amount of hands on intervention they need to provide while maximizing their level of effectiveness.