From good management to great leadership – reflections from two decades of leadership practice
by Sylva de Fluiter
What is good management? What is great leadership?
In my career in large multi-national and medium-sized companies I have experienced a variety of management styles. I became interested in management behavior, in leadership and in finding out what worked best for the employees and for the company. What is good management? What is great leadership? What does it consist of? How do you recognize it? As management styles substantially influence and shape the working environment, I was particularly interested in their effect on employees and teams. This is what I learned in the past 25 years.
In my own extended leadership practice throughout several executive positions, I experienced that a fruitful work environment with a motivated and productive work force can often be observed when there is good interaction between a manager and the team. Several years ago, when the concept of coaching first came to my attention, I began to realize how strongly ‘good interaction between a manager and the team’ involved coaching elements. As I became more aware of coaching and its stimulation for learning, development, performance, and business results I decided to take up the MSc studies in Coaching and Mentoring. Through my responsibility in executive positions, I had vast opportunity to apply my newly acquired coaching skills in my daily work, which enabled me to enhance and further develop my own leadership skills and coaching skills.
My increased access to coaching issues due to my studies led me to observe and recognize patterns in my working environment. On the one hand, I came across daily work situations where coaching or the use of coaching elements could have been supportive and helpful. On the other hand, I had the impression that coaching elements were altogether absent in some aeras of the company. This awoke my interest in taking a more systematic approach to the topic of coaching and its application in managerial work, i.e. the Coaching Style of Management and I endeavored on a research journey.
A hypothesis on great leadership
On that basis I established a hypothesis according to which the Coaching Style of Management is the management style that has the most positive effect on motivation and productivity of employees and teams. For other management styles, see Appendix.
To find out more I asked questions on the effect different management styles have on motivation and productivity of employees and teams and which has the most positive impact. The answers obtained through my investigations have led to largely homogeneous results. The findings establish that the Authoritarian Management Style and the Laissez-Faire Management Style, which have both been experienced and observed at the company where the research has been conducted, have a negative effect on the workforce and lead to low motivation and low productivity. In contrast, the Coaching Style of Management was felt to lead to higher motivation and productivity.
Management styles and their impact on the workforce
Understanding what fosters employee productivity and which management style affects it positively was the main focus of my research.
A study tapping into the subject of particular management styles and productivity of employees found that Authoritarian Management Styles are perceived to be rather negative in respect to interpersonal relations, whereas the contrary was stated for participative management styles.
Another study scrutinizes the human factor in productivity and its link with the work environment, variety of tasks, management style and the way employees experience their job. Although placed in an industrial environment and comparing Japanese and U.S. companies in particular, the article discusses a ‘seemingly mysterious management formula’ that makes companies successful, employees productive and products of high quality. According to Otis, managers must among others:
build confidence in their employees
replace boss-subordinate relationships with equal-to-equal ones
make the vital resource – the employee – happy
move to consensus decision making
By observing these rules, paying attention to the needs of the work force, and facilitating a meaningful work experience a manager will achieve and maintain a productive workforce and a profitable business.
Goleman establishes a link between the emotional intelligence of managers and the productivity of employees or business results by suggesting that an effective manager uses a variety of management styles and applies each in the right measure, just at the right time. Accordingly, Goleman’s findings record a negative impact from an Autocratic and Directive Management Style and a positive impact from a Coaching and Participative Management Style.
Good management by coaching
Managers applying the Coaching Style of Management distinguish themselves by emotionally connecting to employees and strongly affecting their feelings of commitment and engagement. This has an impact on and strong correlations with the employees’ performance and productivity and can help guarantee profitable results.
The Coaching Style of Management is a day-to-day, hands-on process helping employees recognize opportunities to improve their performance. Findings from further studies confirmed that:
the Coaching Style of Management successfully contributes to the improvement of performance of employees and the achievement of organizational goals.
giving feedback on results is the most effective way to improve performance.
in an organization where morale is low, job satisfaction is reduced and productivity goes down, a Coaching Style of Management can provide a climate where the needs of each individual employee and the goals of the organization are aligned.
managers as coaches encourage, foster and support employees’ continual development, keep their morale high and keep them motivated and productive.
the fundamental basis for creating a developmentally aware culture is the expectation towards managers to delegate.
one of the greatest differences between traditional management and the Coaching Style of Management probably is that the traditional manager motivates, whereas with the Coaching Style of Management it is the employee’s responsibility and privilege, supported by the manager.
managers as coaches constantly bring out the best in people, encourage them to do better, point out opportunities, suggest alternative ways of view and proceeding, explore alternatives and foster individual development. Based on the best practice of a coaching approach, this is by asking and challenging rather than by telling.
What is an example of the coaching style of management?
As a leader or line manager
make yourself available for questions, suggestions, and feedback
listen, ask questions and be curious rather than giving your views and opinions
truly delegate and empower, aligned with the level of team members’ experience
give explicit recognition, praise, kudos, and unsolicited feedback
be there and support when things do not go according to plan and encourage leanings
Effective employee motivation is described as the most important challenge for managers; and their responsibility in providing developmental opportunities and creating conditions for motivation in others is considered a key element of managerial tasks. As the correlation between a management style and motivation is seen as strong and proven, the importance of nurturing a motivated workforce is a must when aiming for good management and great leadership.
The Coaching Style of Management with its positive impact typically produces high levels of motivation, which in turn leads to outstanding performance and productivity.
Participants of my enquiries consistently stated that they would be at their best, show high motivation and display superior productivity if managers applied the Coaching Style of Management. These findings lead to the conclusion that there exists a positive correlation between motivation and productivity and the Coaching Style of Management.
Hence, the Coaching Style of Management is not only the desired management style but it is also the management style that brings out the best in employees and teams.
This has also been mirrored in my own professional experience and leadership work over the years. Therefore, in my executive coaching practice today, I encourage coachees to explore the various leadership styles, align them with the team and individual’s development level and needs as well as with the company culture to raise awareness, develop further and succeed.
Coaching and leadership are two sides of the same coin. Let‘s bring it all together!
A financial services professional with 25 years of management experience in international business, Sylva complemented her skills with a Master’s degree in Coaching & Mentoring in the UK. With this background, Sylva offers corporate world experience, business acumen, top management savvy and people management skills as an inherent part of her leadership advisory and executive coaching practice.
In executive roles at several companies across various cultures, she applied different management styles, designed and implemented organisational structures and explored new ways of working with her teams. Coaching, feedback and empathy were typical elements of her management style, always aiming at bringing out the best in people. With her strong belief in individuals and their skills and talents as well as her interest in potential hurdles to success, she supports and accompanies professionals on their route to sustainable high performance.
Sylva’s hometown is Zurich. Throughout her career, she has lived and worked in Madrid, London and Vienna.