As a manager, part of your job is ensuring that your workforce is invested and committed enough to remain employed under your direction. Of course, it’s also your responsibility to ensure they’re hitting productivity quotas and work deadlines. Balancing these two objectives is far more difficult than achieving each independently.

Still, there is no shortage of different management styles you can adopt in an effort to accomplish both goals. Some of these styles, like overt micromanagement, have obvious flaws—in the case of micromanagement, you’ll waste much time nitpicking details and by the end of it, your employees will be so frustrated they won’t want to work for you. But some strategies have less obvious drawbacks, to the point that they’ve managed to become popular despite their destructive potential.

Take, for example, these three common management styles, all of which have the potential to destroy your employee morale:

The “Hands-Off” Approach.

There are two types of people who favor this approach: lazy people and optimists. Lazy people love the hands-off approach because it allows them to do as little managing as possible. Optimists favor this approach because they naturally believe that their team is so good that they need little to no direction.

In either case, the approach is more or less the same. With a minimal outline of direction, the manager sets a course for workers. Occasionally, these managers will provide expectations or goals, but for the most part, the burden of effort is on the workers themselves. This alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing; if your workers are self-motivated and insightful enough to realize when they need help, you may end up with a good situation. The problem comes with a lack of feedback. Without firm direction, immediate involvement, and both positive and negative feedback, workers won’t be able to adjust their work to meet your objectives or your vision. They may then feel like they’re spinning their wheels, making no real progress, all the while wondering whether what they’re doing aligns with the ultimate goal.

This is only a problem when the “hands off” approach also applies to the amount of feedback given. If all expectations, directives, and goals are made clear at the beginning, with feedback along the way, there is no other problem taking a minimalist approach. The problem is that most managers who adopt minimalism take it to the extreme.

The “Goal Is Everything” Approach.

Another common approach with destructive potential is the “goal is everything” mindset. Here, a manager sets a clear goal for his team, possibly with smaller goals that lead to it along the way. In this approach, the goal means everything to both the workers and the manger. It is their reason for being, and it can’t be missed for any reason.

This approach wins favor because goal-setting is objectively one of the best ways to increase productivity. Putting emphasis on a goal is a staple of management, and in many cases, is a good thing. It becomes a problem when the goal becomes the only focus. For example, if you set a sales goal for $30,000 and your workers collectively come up with only $22,000, a “goal is everything” style manager would view this as a failure. A more reasonable manager would view this as a good effort, and would work with each individual to assess what they did right, what they did wrong, and how they can adjust their approach for the next goal.

The problem with the “goal is everything” approach is that it makes people believe that one task, or one deadline, is the only thing that’s important. But future goals are important, improvement is important, effort is important, and even failure itself isn’t really that bad.

The “Everyone Is Equal” Approach.

Let me start this section by saying that favoritism in a management role is always a bad thing. Giving special treatment to someone due to a friendship or previous connection can make both of you look bad and harm the morale of the group. But to overcompensate for this, some managers have adopted a strict “everyone is equal” approach to management. Under this approach, every individual is treated equally, with exactly equal pay, equal goals, equal incentives, and equal treatment.

The problem, of course, is that no two people on the planet are exactly alike. People have different strengths and weaknesses. They have different preferences and working styles. What incentivizes one worker might repulse another, and what helps one worker focus might relentlessly distract another one. If you want to be a successful manager, you have to recognize and embrace these differences, and try to balance your treatment of those individuals accordingly.

Before you start reevaluating your own management style or desperately looking for an alternative, remember that these management styles only have the potential to compromise your employee morale—there’s no guarantee that they will. In some special cases, they can actually work well. Take the “hands off” approach, for instance. If you have a small team of specialists, all of whom have a very clear understanding of their roles and directives, and all of whom are intrinsically and naturally motivated, stepping back in a “hands off” style may pose no serious threat to productivity or satisfaction.

The key here is to tailor your management style to the environment to which you intend to apply it. Consider the company culture in your organization, the types of people you will be managing, your own personality and goals, and even the people above you. Ideally, you’ll create a custom management style that appeases all of these considerations—it’s just easier said than done.

Anna Johansson is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant from Olympia, Washington. A columnist for,, and more, Follow her on Twitter @Number1AnnaJo

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