Management Styles -
Directing, Discussing, and Delegating

by Paul B. Thornton

Management literature describes numerous management styles including:

Country Club
Laissez faire

Are there really that many styles? No! I believe there are three basic styles - directing, discussing, and delegating. Each style is unique in terms of how managers communicate, set goals, make decisions, provide feedback and recognize good performance.

Managers must determine which management style will be most appropriate for the employee's knowledge, skills, and experience. Using the appropriate management style provides employees with the right amount of guidance, involvement and support for the task that needs to be accomplished.

Directing Style

Managers tell people what to do, how to do it and when to have it completed by. They assign roles and responsibilities, set standards, and define expectations.

  • Communications - It is one way. The manager speaks, employees listen and react. The only feedback managers ask for is - "Do you understand what needs to be done?"

  • Goal-Setting - The manager establishes short-term goals with specific deadlines.

  • Decision-Making - The manager makes most if not all decisions. When problems arise the manager evaluates options, makes decisions and directs employees as to what actions to take.

  • Providing Feedback - The manager provides candid, detailed instructions as to what changes the employee needs to make.

  • Rewards and Recognition - Managers reward and recognize people for following directions.

Points to Remember When Using the Directing Style

  1. Organize your thoughts before you begin to speak.
  2. Start with the big picture, and then discuss the details.
  3. Make sure your directions are clear and specific.
  4. If possible show employees the desired output. Take the mystery and guess work out of what you want.
  5. Assign due dates.
  6. Provide written instructions if the directions are complex or lengthy.
  7. Get feedback - test the transfer. Ask the employee to explain in his or her own words what you want done.

The directing style is appropriate when there is a mandate from above that describes what must be done and how it must be done. The manager is the "Commander-in-charge" simply carrying out the orders. The directing style is also appropriate in emergency situations as well as when employees have limited experience performing the assigned task.

Discussing Style

Managers using this style ask questions and discuss relevant problems, opportunities, and work projects. What happens in a good discussion? People present ideas, ask questions, listen, evaluate information, and provide feedback. It's important to make sure ideas are fully discussed and debated. Managers often perform the role of facilitator, making sure the discussion stays on track and everyone has a chance to contribute.

  • Communication - Two-way communications is the norm. Managers spend as much time asking questions and listening, as they do talking and sharing their ideas.

  • Goal-Setting - After adequate discussion, goals are established. Utilizing a participatory style generally increases employees' commitment to achieve goals.

  • Decision-Making - Decisions are made collaboratively. Both manager and employee play an active role in defining problems, evaluating options, and making decisions.

  • Providing Feedback - Managers ask questions that force employees to examine their behavior and identify better ways of working.

  • Rewards and Recognition - Managers recognize people when they contribute to the discussion, ask good questions, build on the ideas of others, and are open to new points of view.

Points to Remember When Using the Discussing Style

  1. Don't use the discussing style if you've already made up your mind.
  2. Know your objectives. What's the specific purpose of the discussion?
  3. Ask good questions. Probe and dig. Ask follow-up questions as needed.
  4. Solicit everyone's ideas and opinions. Don't allow one or two people to dominate the discussion.
  5. Observe body language. What non-verbal messages are being displayed about the ideas being discussed?
  6. Withhold your opinion until all employees have had a chance to comment.
  7. Eventually get closure. Review the specific action items that are generated from the discussion.

The discussion style is appropriate when there are opportunities to influence answers to questions such as, "What are our goals? What quality standards are needed?" "What work process should be used?" Who should do the work?" "What type of controls and feedback is needed?" The discussion style is effective when employees have ideas and confidence to speak up. Involvement in determining what must be done and how it will be done increases employee commitment to making it happen.

Delegating Style

Managers using this style usually explain or get agreement on what has to be accomplished and when it must be completed. The how-to-do-it part of the equation is left up to the employee. Responsibility and authority are given to employees to get the job done.

  • Communications - The manager can use a directing or discussing style as to what needs to be accomplished.

  • Goal-Setting - Specific goals and deadlines are established when the task is initially delegated.

  • Decision-Making - Decisions as to how the task will be accomplished are left to the employee. Employees have the power to take action to achieve the desired goals.

  • Providing Feedback - Managers don't provide it but rather require it. They ask employees to identify their key "lessons learned."

  • Rewards and Recognition - Managers reward and recognize people who demonstrate the ability to work independently, make decisions, and get the job done.

Points to Remember When Using the Delegating Style

  1. Challenge people but don't overwhelm them.
  2. Show confidence in the person's ability to get the job done.
  3. Don't over delegate to the same one or two "star" performers.
  4. When delegating a long-term project establish specific follow up dates.
  5. Avoid "reverse delegation."
  6. Never delegate the responsibility for administering discipline or dealing with an employee's personal issues.

The delegating style is appropriate when people have the knowledge, skills, and motivation to get the job done. Experienced people don't need a manager telling them what to do. They want the freedom to choose how to get the work done. The ability to effectively delegate provides managers with more time to spend on other tasks such as benchmarking and strategic planning.


Each style (directing, discussing, and delegating) is unique in terms of how the manager behaves. One senior executive states, " I often use a hybrid approach. I'll use a directing style on what needs to be accomplished and a discussing style to determine how it should be done. Other times after a good discussion, I'll delegate. I tell my associate it's his or her decision to decide how to proceed." Effective managers use all three management styles to work with and through people to achieve organizational goals. The appropriate management style challenges and motivates people to achieve the desired results.

Paul B. Thornton is an author, consultant, trainer, and professional speaker. His company, Be The Leader Associates designs and delivers seminars and workshops on various management and leadership topics. His latest book Leadership and Leadership - Seeing, Describing, and Pursuing What's Possible is available at and He can be reached at .

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Copyright 2006 by Paul B. Thornton. All rights reserved.

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