The Latest from Management Craft

Posted: 26 Jan 2009 07:36 AM PST

Here is a guest post by Paul Thornton, who writes and teaches about management. It has always been my belief that a great manager shows up as the person the employee needs at the time and that this changes based on the individual, the situation, and the time.

Management Styles

By Paul B. Thornton

As a manager I use three basic management styles—Directing, Discussing, and Delegating.  

Directing Style--When I direct—I tell the individual or a group:

  • What to do
  • How it’s to be done
  • When to have it completed by

I’ve learned it works best when I’m organized, clear, concise, and provide the right amount of detail. Also, I’ve learned it’s important to treat people as adults. On occasion I have acted like the parent telling my immature child/employee what to do. Not good. I came across as being condescending and arrogant.

Use the directing style in the following situations:

  1. Your boss has given you specific directions.
  2. Your employee is inexperienced and lacks needed skills.
  3. Emergencies

Don’t use the directing style if your employee has done the task 28 times. 

How can you be a better director? I have found it’s useful to ask employees questions like the following:

  • How well do I communicate my expectations?
  • How clearly do I explain what I want you to do?

The Discussing Style—I’ve learned the discussing style works best when I ask focused and genuine questions. Genuine questions come from my curiosity and desire to learn.

Use the discussing style in the following situations:

  • You haven’t made up your mind. There are opportunities to influence the goals and plans.
  • Discussion and collaboration will improve the quality of the decisions.
  • There is need for buy-in and commitment from those who will be implementing the plan.

In meetings it’s important to get everyone involved in the discussion. I often begin meetings by saying, “I want to start by giving each of you two minutes to discuss your views on this topic.” Managers should withhold their opinion until all employees have had a chance to comment.

Don’t use the discussing style when if you have already made up your mind.

How can you be more effective when using the discussing style? Prepare the questions you will ask ahead of time? The better the questions—the better the discussion.

Delegating Style—Using this style, I assign tasks to the employee. I let the employee decide what needs to be accomplished and when it must be completed. But there are times when I defined the “what needs to be done” and “when it must be completed.” However the how-to-do-it part of the equation is always left up to the employee. 

Use the delegating style in the following situations:

  • The employee knows or is capable of figuring out how to get the work done.
  • You want to use the assignment as a developmental opportunity to broaden the employee’s skills.

Don’t use the delegating style if the employee lacks confidence and know how.


Like a good doctor, managers must diagnose the situation before deciding what management style to use. As employees gain experience, skills and confidence managers need to move from directing to discussing to delegating. 

About Paul:
Paul B. Thornton is a speaker and author. His latest book, The Big Three Management Styles (Multi-Media Publications) is available and His e-mail address is



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