Learn a Flexible Management Style

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Learn a Flexible Management Style

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Ever struggle with how to manage someone?

Ever discover your style isn’t perfect?!

Well, ever tried ’round penning’ a horse?  This exercise helped a sales manager evaluate her management style.

An EAL (Equine Assisted Learning) participant’s job during this exercise is to get a horse to circle the perimeter of the pen, following their guidance. Sounds easy, right?

There are a few challenges that present themselves when round penning. Firstly, a participant is alone during this task. This can prove intimidating for people who are new with large animals. Secondly, each horse has unique behavioural quirks that can help or hinder the person guiding them, depending on their personality. Some horses are hard to move forward, others are hard to slow down. In all cases, the goal of this exercise is to reach a point where the horse walks at a person’s shoulder, at mirror paces.

While this exercise is completed, facilitators offer their guidance as needed. Some participants require more encouragement to get their horses moving. Some are naturals out of the gate, and are left to their own devices

One day, during the recap session of this exercise, a confident sales manager was the first to speak. She said she learned something that amazed her and would change her management style going forward.  She mentioned that her approach to leadership in the work place is typically hiring people and allowing them to do their jobs. Since she hires capable people, she had thus far assumed that her input was not necessary.

She was both amazed and inspired at the instructor’s selective involvement with their participants.

The leadership style that the sales manager embodied is known as laissez-faire, while the style embodied by the facilitators is referred to as participative. There are three generally cited styles of leadership, the third being autocratic. While each style has its own advantages and disadvantages, participative leadership (also known as “democratic” leadership) is generally thought to be the most effective at creating a healthy work environment.

Here’s why.

First, let’s start off with the manager’s style of instruction: laissez-faire. A laissez-faire leader lacks direct supervision of employees. While highly experienced employees can thrive under this type of leadership, new comers and young workers may find themselves struggling. A lack of regular feedback can ultimately lead to poor production and a lack of control over a work environment.

Next: autocratic leadership. This leadership style allows managers to make decisions without consulting their staff. Managers possess total authority over their employees, and no one is allowed to challenge their decisions. While this style of leadership may be useful during moments that require high stress, quick decision making – say, a problem arises minutes before a deadline is due- it ultimately stifles the creativity of employees.

Participative leadership strives to create the best of both worlds between these two leadership styles. Intervention takes place when it is necessary, but employees are left to their own devices when they have a handle on things. The end result is a collaborative relationship between an employer and their employees.

After her moment of enlightenment when watching our facilitators, our confident manager mentioned that, while it was reasonable to let her confident sales reps do their own thing, she could see herself taking more initiative to help out a worker who was struggling. She initially saw her hands-off management style as the “best” style.  Now she realized it was not only OK, but a sign of excellence, to change her style as needed.

Why didn’t our manager learn this during her successful career?  Why did she learn it now?

  • She was able to watch the process without thinking of it as watching how people do or should manage. She just experienced several different circumstances and was inspired to make her own conclusions.
  • She experienced the event in a novel environment – novelty helps us learn.
  • Experiential learning is deeper learning: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius.  Our sales manager not only watched others, she was in the round pen too.

Essentially, she stepped outside the box in her learning journey.


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