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Lead Your Team Managing

One Size Fits All? The Best Managers Tailor Their Styles

One Size Fits All? The Best Managers Tailor Their Styles
Credit: RawPixel/Shutterstock

In order to get the results they are looking for from their employees, bosses need to consider their own mindsets first, new research finds.

A study recently published in the Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes journal revealed that bosses can adjust their approach to produce different outcomes from workers. 

Brent Scott, one of the study's authors and a professor at Michigan State University, said company leaders can alter their mindsets to get employees to take a more innovative approach or to rein in their work for a more conservative style.

"Effective leadership may be based in part on a leader's ability to recognize when a particular mental state is needed in their employees and to adapt their own mental state and their behaviors to elicit that mindset," Scott said in a statement.

For the study, researchers conducted field studies and experiments with hundreds of managers and employees from a variety of industries, including professional services, manufacturing and government. [See Related Story: Want Better Employee-Boss Relationships? Communication and Recognition Help ]

The research found that bosses with an innovative mindset typically lead in a transformative way, which in turn elicits an innovative approach from their employees.

Conversely, bosses with more conservative mindsets are more likely to use a style that focuses on preventing mistakes, which prompts a similar approach from their employees.

Russell Johnson, one of the study's authors and a Michigan State University professor, said the research shows that a manager's leadership style trickles down to those who work for them.

"Thus, if managers are unhappy with how their people are approaching work tasks, the managers might actually be the ones responsible for eliciting their motivation in the first place," Johnson said. "Managers can modify their leadership behavior to trigger the appropriate motivation orientation in their employees to fit the situation."

Although transformation leaders are often widely praised and receive a lot of attention for their innovative approach, Scott said that's not a mindset all bosses can or want to take. Often, a more preventative approach is needed.

“Part of the story here is that you don’t have to be Steve Jobs to be an effective leader," Scott said. "There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing."

The study's authors believe the best tactic may be one that combines both a promotion and prevention focus. Scott said this "contingent reward behavior" emphasizes gains and provides both positive and negative reinforcement based on performance.
"The contingent approach is quid pro quo – if you do this, I'll give you that," Scott said. "It’s not sexy like transformational leadership, but it's something that just about every manager can do because it doesn't require you to ooze charisma."

The study was co-authored by Danielle King, of Michigan State University; Szu-Han (Joanna) Lin, of the University of Massachusetts Amherst; Erin Jackson Walker, of Louisiana State University; and Mo Wang, of the University of Florida.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.