Management Style: Are you using the ‘Pendulum’ approach?

management styleWhich management style are you using today? Which did you use yesterday? Not sure? OK how about trying these questions

1. Have you undertaken any people management activities today – or yesterday?

2. Have you found yourself frustrated today – or yesterday – by your staff, and have you shown that frustration by either shouting or seething?

If you said ‘no’ to the first question and ‘yes’ to the second my (uninvited) diagnosis is that you might be using what I call the pendulum style of management! And you might be suffering because of it (take a lie down on my couch why don’t you?)

The pendulum management style: from passive to aggressive and all the way back again

Over the last 20 years I’ve spent time with hundreds of managers – training them, coaching them and observing them. What I’ve noticed is that some managers use (although rarely with awareness) a style of management that swings (pendulum like) from passive to aggressive

Here’s what happens

The passive management style

The manager, often because of a lack of skill or confidence, adopts a passive style of management. They avoid anything that feels to them ‘managerial’ e.g.

• Agreeing objectives or performance standards

• Monitoring staff performance

• Giving performance feedback

• Discussing job satisfaction

And so on

They will respond to requests from their staff and their own management but what they don’t do is bring a focused structure approach to managing their staff

The result of the passive style

Not surprisingly this passive management style often results in staff underperformance. Staff aren’t clear on what they should be doing, their work isn’t monitored so mistakes or areas for improvement aren’t identified quickly enough, they don’t get the performance feedback they need so they can’t build upon what they are doing well or improve what they need to improve. Their manager doesn’t seem interested in their job satisfaction so their motivation is rock bottom. I’m guessing you’ve got the picture??

Of course these performance problems will inevitably at some point impact the manager and this usually results in some frustration or anger (Why can’t people just do what they’re paid to do? Why do I always have to sort out these problems? How could he have thought that would work? I can’t believe she did that!)

When the manager’s frustration drives them into action it generally sets off the pendulum and swings the manager (at some velocity) towards…

The aggressive management style

On the most obvious level the manager here has decided ‘enough is enough’ and ‘they’ve got to be told’ and ‘I’m not standing for this’. They will decide it’s time to give some ‘no holds barred’ feedback. They often deliver this feedback as criticism and in a way that, even with the most generous of hearts, we couldn’t label as constructive. They’ll often criticise in public and aim the criticism at the whole team, rather than individual staff (what I call the ‘scattergun approach’ – read more on that HERE)

In short they’ll have a rant and rave

A less obvious level of aggression is when the manager is holding their temper but seething inside. The aggressive management style here can be demonstrated by a) ignoring the staff member they think is responsible for the problem b) making gibes or sarcastic comments c) talking critically about the staff member to others

In short they’ll seethe

Eventually, of course, the storm will blow over. The manager will calm down. The crisis will have been averted (or at least dealt with) and the manager can now comfortably get back on the pendulum and return to the calmer waters of – yep you guessed – the passive style

The cost of the pendulum style of management

I’m guessing you can see how ineffective this management style is? How de-motivating it is for the staff? How stressful for the manager?

So what’s the alternative?

Stopping the pendulum

The most effective way for managers to stop the pendulum is, firstly, to stop being passive about management. When managers put in place a focused, structured system for managing their staff’s performance and job satisfaction then, simply by taking action, the pendulum is stopped (you can see an example of a performance management system HERE)

Of course, even when managers effectively manage performance, sometimes problems arise (although rarely as often as when managers are passive). The difference here is, because the manager has a performance management system in place, these problems are much easier to identify quickly and much easier to deal with. No aggression required!

Management Style Summary

Are the managers in your business using the pendulum management style? Is this because they don’t have the skills they need to effectively manage their staff’s performance? If your managers need help why not take a look at some samples from my 10 Minute Management Toolkit videos HERE


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