Developing a Flexible Leadership Style

What sort of manager are you? Do you say ‘This is how I am, like it or lump it?’ Or are you someone who can be flexible and adjust how you manage someone depending on what’s going to bring out the best in them.

There are many ways we can lead people. If we are willing to be flexible, this usually means adjusting the style we use depending on how experienced the employee is, how confident and how motivated they are. There are as many styles as there are members of staff, but we can broadly identify four main types. Using the right style, for the right situation, increases levels of engagement and empowerment.

Tell style – ‘this is what you need to do and this is how you need to do it’

This is ideal for new starters or for experienced staff members tackling a new task. Clear direction is key, together with regular support. It is also wholly appropriate in an emergency and a crisis. It is likely to demotivate experienced members of staff who know what they are doing and who will feel they are not trusted and are being micro-managed.


Sell style – ‘this is what you need to do and this is why’

This style is used in a range of situations. At one level it is again useful for relatively new staff who need a lot of direction and like to know the bigger picture. It is also useful when we need to ‘sell’ change / ideas that have been decided by those above us and which we have to implement. Again, it is less effective with those who are very experienced who like to be involved in decisions. The strings decision-making are still held by the manager.

Consult style – ‘this is where we need to get to. How do you think we achieve that?’

This style uses a lot of open questions to involve the employee in the decision making, eg ‘How do you think we achieve this?’ ‘What’s the best way forward here?’ ‘What are the main priorities here?’ It involves the employee in the decision-making though the manager is the one who makes the final decision, ideally taking into account the opinions of the employee. This style is very motivating for experienced staff as it uses their knowledge and expertise. It can confuse a newer member of staff who may not yet have the experience to contribute.

Empower style – ‘this is what needs to be achieved – I’ll leave it to you to decide how to do so.’

This style is ideal for experienced employees, giving them clear goals and letting them choose how to achieve them. Using this style in this way can be very motivating, giving them freedom and independence. It’s worth remembering that it can be demotivating for newer members of staff who may feel they may be thrown in the deep end without a life ring!

Using the right style, in the right way, in the right situation is very motivating. Using the wrong style can be very demotivating. A greater awareness of the styles, and their effect, means we’re more likely to get it right.

Come and learn more on our Management Development Programmes:

- Developing Yourself and Others: 13-14 October
- Leadership & Management Essentials: 27-28 September

To find out more information about other courses call 01480 435544 or email