Most supervisors (myself included) tend to lean on one style of leadership. You find what works for you, and you stick with it. Or, worse yet, even if it doesn’t work, you stick with it anyway. You’ve fallen into one pattern out of habit or because it makes you comfortable (even if it makes those who work for you uncomfortable).
I recently attended a seminar on a management theory that has been around awhile; it was developed jointly by Dr. Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard (of One-Minute Manager fame). The idea is simple. Different people have different levels of ability to do a job (usually due to different levels of experience or training) and different levels of willingness or motivation to do a job. It’s a mistake to manage them all the same way. Don’t micromanage someone who is fully trained and committed to the work. Don’t be hands off with someone who is insecure or not performing well. As people grow and change, our management pattern should change too.
Many managers got promoted because they are bright, hard-working people who did the frontline work well. Their temptation is to keep telling their crew the details of how to do the work even when their crew is fully trained. It will discourage people to tell them how to do their work–even if your ideas are better. They need the motivation that comes from succeeding on their own and the value of learning from their own mistakes.
Of course there are ways to intervene positively and constructively. But sometimes managers who did the frontline work well are conflict avoiders. So they won’t help others with their work even when they need it.
Another potential problem is to lurch between patterns inappropriately. This can especially be the case in an organization that is low on resources. A boss may give a few quick, detailed instructions to a new employee and then throw them in the deep end without a life preserver. The boss has too much to do and doesn’t have time to help the employee move from one stage of growth to another.
The key is making sure you understand the situation of the person you are supervising. Otherwise you’re more likely to apply the wrong approach.