What’s the Best Management Style – Article

Harvard Business School published a terrific article last week on management titled, On Managing with Bobby Knight and “Coach K,”  which delves into two very different management styles; how these divergent management techniques can both be successful and how one’s management style is heavily influenced by what kind of person they are.  The article goes on to explain that a manager needs to be aware of the type of person they are to fully understand how they manage and in what situations they will be successful.

For those that don’t follow college sports, Bobby Night was the long-time head basketball coach at the Indiana University (currently the head coach at Texas Tech).  He was (and still is) known for his “in your face” coaching style, sometimes, actually getting in the face of his players – he was once photographed clutching one of his players by the throat and was ultimately fired from Indiana for his antics.

Coach K – Mike Krzyzewski – head coach of the Duke University basketball team has a completely different coaching style.  Much more from the touchy-feely school, Coach K is known for his analogies relating his basketball team to a family.

Even though each man applies a very different style of management, they both are extremely successful coaches and have consistently produced outstanding basketball teams and players.  The HBS article discusses how the management techniques of the two coaches is derived from the type of people they are and what they see in others.

From the article . . .

What you believe about human nature, says Snook, influences your leadership style. “If you believe people are fundamentally good—good meaning that they’re trying to do their best, they’re self-motivated, they want to perform—then your fundamental leadership style will be one way. It will be empowering them, getting obstacles out of the way, and setting high goals while maintaining standards.

“If you believe people are fundamentally bad—if you believe people are constantly looking to get over and get by and won’t do anything unless they’re watched—then you’ll tend to lead with a very transactional management style that’s built primarily around rewards and punishments. Tight supervision, a controlling type of leadership style characterized by a great deal of social distance between leaders and led.”

Of course, any good manager can choose to adapt their style to the situation within a certain range.  The key to good management is to understand the key variables in a situation and to find the right permutation of those variables that best addresses it.

Again, from the article . . .

On the classroom board, Snook [Professor Scott Snook, whose HBS classroom work the article is based on] draws three ovals. “The first oval is who you are. The middle oval, which overlaps a little bit, is how you lead, your style. The third overlapping oval is the situation.”

Leaders who can recognize and call upon all three areas can expand their range of management styles to meet the needs of the situation, Snook says. “That could be an individual subordinate who needs more structure, or less structure, or more love, more challenge, or more support. Increasing your ability to accurately read relevant situational demands, understand more clearly your own assumptions about human nature, and then appropriately adapt ‘how you lead,’ your style, is a life-long process.”

The article asks the question, “is it better to be loved or feared as a manager.”  Being more of the Coach K style manager, myself, I’ve always struggled with the success that more draconian management (as I see it) has wrought.  I’ve always wanted to see management styles as either being black or white – wanting there to be one right way.  As this article points out and from what I’ve found in my own experience, this is just not the way it is – many management styles can bring about success.

I really like this article’s description and Professor Snook’s use of a Venn diagram describing the intersection of who you are, your style as a manager and the situation.  It’s a great tool in thinking about how to manage in a given situation.  It’s important to remember, though, that this tool is somewhat limited in its scope.  Much of what is important in management at a particular moment has less to do with what you do than what you have done.  The culture you’ve created, the training that you’ve given, the motivation you’ve encouraged and the people that you’ve hired have all laid the groundwork to the response of your team at any given time.

Thanks to Rob May over at for pointing it out.

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