3 categories and 8 subcategories of management styles

Management styles vary between individuals. And though most tend to gravitate towards a particular style type, an individual could choose to use different management styles depending on what fits best for a particular scenario.

Your management style will depend on a myriad of factors, including your personality, the organization you work for, your team, and your goals. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, so it’s necessary for you to get clear on your temperament, how your employees operate, and the team, department, and organizational goals. From there, you can choose a style that fits best for you overall and employ other styles or aspects of other styles when necessary.

What is a management style?

Management styles are how a manager works to fulfill their objectives and goals. The way the manager organizes, delegates, plans, manages their team, and makes decisions, all point towards their management style.

Management styles can vary depending on where the manager works, the industry, the company culture, the country where the organization does business, the level of management, and the person.

Effective leaders can adjust their management style to respond to various factors impacting them, their teams, and the organization to remain focused on being productive and achieving KPIs and targets. In other words, management styles are not static.

What are the categories and subcategories of management styles?

There are three broad categories of management styles, commonly referred to as leadership styles. They are:

  • Autocratic
  • Democratic
  • Laissez-faire

Within each category, there are management style subtypes. Each primary style is listed below, followed by subtypes.

Autocratic management style

Autocratic leaders follow a top-down approach, preferring one-way communication that flows from managers to employees. It is the most controlling of the management styles, with the management holding all the power and making all workplace decisions.

Employees are not encouraged and are often actively discouraged from asking questions or sharing ideas and thoughts about process improvements.

Authoritative, paternalistic, and persuasive are the subcategories of an autocratic management style.


Authoritative leaders dictate specifically what they expect from subordinates and punish employees when noncompliance occurs. Employees are not to question leaders, are required to follow orders, and be consistent in how they perform tasks. Managers micromanage and closely monitor their employees. Managers believe that employees won’t operate with success if they aren’t monitored closely with supervision.


  • Allows for quick decision making
  • Creates clearly defined expectations and roles
  • Allows unskilled workers to work with little uncertainty due to setting clear expectations
  • If the manager is present, and only if, productivity increases


  • Inefficient processes remain in place
  • Innovation is stifled
  • Several negatives can occur, including an increase in employee dissatisfaction, high turnover, resentment, “us” vs. “them” mentality, low employee engagement, and lack of professional development


Using the paternalistic style, leaders act with the best interest of their subordinates in mind. They refer to employees as family and request trust and loyalty from them. Unilateral decision-making is used but explained to employees that those making the decisions are working from a place of expert status, making the decisions legit. However, there’s still no room for questioning or collaboration.


  • Focus is on the welfare of the employees, and decisions are based on what is best for them
  • Employee education and upskilling are valued, creating higher morale and more skilled and productive employees


  • The style might come across as infantilizing or condescending
  • Employees that don’t see the organization as a family concept might resent this style
  • A lack of problem-solving and innovation could ensue due to employees becoming overly dependent on management


Managers make an effort to use persuasive skills to convince employees to go along with unilateral decisions the manager suggests and implements for the good of the organization, department, or team.

Since employees aren’t simply ordered around, this style explains decision-making processes and the rationale behind procedures and policies. Employees feel more involved and valued, lowering levels of tension and resentment between managers and employees.


  • Higher trust can be established between managers and employees
  • Employees accept top-down decisions more readily
  • There’s a more positive response to logic and reason compared to threat and punishment, so they might feel less restrained compared to the authoritative style


  • Employees will still feel restricted
  • Employees will still become frustrated and resentful that they can’t provide feedback, upskill, or offer solutions

Democratic management style

Democratic leaders encourage input from employees, though the final decision lies with the manager. Communication is top-down and bottom-up, allowing for more cohesiveness. It allows for increased diversity in ideas, opinions, and skills for informed decision-making.

Collaborative, consultative, and participative subtypes are common democratic management styles used and are described below. Coaching and transformational subtypes also fall under the democratic management style umbrella.


Employees are empowered to take ownership in the collaborative style type, leading to increased creativity, engagement, and innovation. Management wants all to be involved and extensively discuss ideas before coming to a decision based on majority rule.


  • Employees feel valued, trusted, and heard by all levels of management
  • Open communication leads to faster conflict resolution so bigger issues don’t arise
  • Retention is increased with employee engagement and diversity in voices
  • Employees are inspired to do their best work and collaborate to find the best solutions, being fully engaged with the process


  • The process can be time-consuming
  • Majority rule isn’t always the best choice for the organizations, at which point, higher levels need to step in and make a final decision, which could fester mistrust and resentment


Consultative managers request input from their teams, consulting the perspectives of each team member. The manager then takes the information provided and makes a final decision, considering all perspectives.


  • Promotes bonding between management and employees
  • Builds trust within teams
  • Management and team grow together, learning from each other
  • Expressing options is encouraged, promoting innovation and improved problem solving


  • Consulting staff can take a lot of time and effort
  • Unskilled managers can easily get bogged down in the process of consulting
  • Excessive reliance may cause the perception that the manager doesn’t know what they’re doing since they request input from the staff frequently


Managers that use the participative style give staff access to information about the company’s goals and processes. Staff are encouraged to be active members of the decision-making process with managers. Management seeks employees’ ideas, thoughts, and opinions and works together to make decisions that the company can act on.


  • Employees feel valued by management and the organization
  • Increased motivation and productivity ensue
  • Higher engagement is possible since the team better understands and connects with the organization’s goals


  • Can be a slow process, with bigger personalities taking a front seat to others, leading to resentment
  • In some instances, staff having access to trade secrets increases risk
  • Some employees don’t want to be involved in this type of decision-making, leading to resentment

Laissez-faire management style

Laissez-faire managers take a hands-off approach to managing and leadership. The perspective is that employees can be trusted to do their work, make decisions, and problem-solve without supervision.

Management steps back other than during the work delegation and delivery stages. Management only gets involved outside of that if requested by the employee. Delegative and visionary subtypes fall under the laissez-faire management style.


With the delegative management style, the manager assigns tasks and is otherwise absent. They are still, however, responsible for their team successfully completing assigned tasks.

Employees are empowered to do their own work after the work is assigned. Once the task is completed, the manager reviews the employee’s work and provides guidance about what to do to improve future work and projects.


  • Creativity and innovation are encouraged and fostered, especially when highly skilled workers make up the workforce
  • Teamwork and problem-solving strengthen, since workers can handle their own challenges and collaborate to resolve them
  • For those who desire autonomy at work, job satisfaction increases


  • Productivity can suffer without leadership
  • Conflicts may flare up without effective management
  • Lack of direction, cohesiveness, and focus can become apparent within teams
  • Some might feel management is not involved in supporting the team’s success and become resentful


Managers employing this style inspire employees. They explain their objectives and vision and the reasons for them, convincing their team to move towards executing those objectives and their vision.

Managers motivate their employees and then give them the freedom to work with little interference. They check in every so often, though they trust that the shared vision will allow employees to remain on track and produce positive results. The manager gives praise generously, with a fair amount of constructive feedback provided throughout and following the process.


  • Staff believes in what they’re creating, so engagement is improved
  • Retention, employee morale, and motivation improves
  • Problem-solving is quickened
  • Innovation increases


  • Not all managers have the ability to inspire due to different factors, including personality, industry, position, and the service or product
  • Employees must be inspired to perform well, which could be a challenge since it’s a management style that can’t be faked

Now you have the information necessary to begin to identify your management style, as well as other styles that might work well under different circumstances. Give yourself some space to try some out if you’re unsure where exactly you fall within the list. With time, you’ll gain the clarity you need to proceed with the appropriate management style for you and various scenarios that might arise.