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Wearer of Many Hats: One Management Style Does Not Fit All

by Jeffrey Young

Editor’s Notes
Managing a group successfully can require several different styles, depending on the individuals and the situation involved. The author takes a look at 5 different approaches – or “hats” – that managers might use in managing their group.

If you treat your employees like a cookie cutter, you just might get some funny-tasting cookies.

At the core, to get people to follow, any manager must lead using whatever means of persuasion are available at his/her disposal. It is very easy to pick one management style and one mindset. After all, we have one mind (our own) with which to work. But more often than not, we choose the way our manager handled us, or just the opposite if we hated the way we were managed.

Once, I was told there are four styles of management:

  • Fear – Being able to forcefully demand that things be done “or else.” Not being shy about your reactions – especially the bad ones. Not afraid to ask for what you want and can get timid folks to jump whenever you want.
  • Respect – Harder to achieve, but a little earned respect goes a long way when you ask them nicely to do something for you.
  • By example – “Do as I do, because I do it, too.” Great if you’re Superwriter. Not so great if doing your job prevents you from managing at the same time.
  • Delegation – You have proxies for everything. You set the wheels in motion and wait for the results to roll in. Best when you have a stable full of doers; horrible when you have more procrastinators than anything else.

Trying to convince multiple individuals to head in the same direction requires figuring out the mindsets of those multiple people and what it takes to motivate them to follow your lead. However, the approach to management is not just top down; it’s also sideways (dealing with other departments) and upwards (representing your team to upper management).

In other words, the job isn’t just about the people who call you “Boss”; it’s about everyone you deal with.

This article may seem like common sense, but an invaluable methodology to learn is which management “hat” works best for each situation:

Following is a discussion of each.

The Hands On Approach

Some employees need a lot of hand-holding to get their work done. These kinds of people thrive on micro-managing and having their deadlines and expectations set out explicitly, and when you do so, they come in on time and on budget.

New employees tend to need the most hands-on attention. Most of them grow out of it as they get acclimated to their new role, but some folks never develop into anything more than a ‘just tell me where to go, and what to do when I get there’ kind of writer.

Why this is a needed style: Because hands-on folks work better when given a direction, instead of wandering around aimlessly waiting for their next assignment. They are not to be confused with kinesthetic learner-types, who will gladly reach out for the next new tool coming off the assembly line if you don’t rein them in.

The Angle of the Hat: When wearing the Hands On Manager Hat, set aside dedicated time at least once a week to check in on your people. You’ll find they always have a story for you about how things are going, no matter how often you stop in.

Independent Means “Hands Off”

Some employees hate it when you bug them in their office, interrupting their ‘flow’ and wrecking their carefully crafted trains of thought. They value their independence fiercely, skip one-on-ones, and yet somehow produce volumes of work that they point as proof that you should leave them alone.

Changing an Independent by trying to make them work with other people or ‘putting them in charge’ of others may seem like the best way to make them work as a team; however, your average Independent may see that as an admission that they can’t do it all – or worse, that they have to rely on others to get –their- work done.

Why this is a needed style: Because independents think they can do everything on their own time at their own pace, and their goal is to impress you with their speed, style, and ‘finished’ work — recognizing one of these in your group means that you’ve got someone who gets there even faster when you give them enough autonomy.

The Angle of the Hat Is: When wearing the Independent’s Manager Hat, nudge the person along if they seem to have wandered too far afield, ask if they have any interesting ideas to share on your way out the door, but mostly stay out of their way unless their status reports go missing.

The Scout Leader

There’s only one you as manager, and so many groups of products to take care of that you can either drown in meetings about products you can’t keep track of, or you can delegate the appropriate writers to go to the meetings in your stead. But the same strength that lets writers focus on their own work also blinds them to what’s going on in the affairs of their next-door neighbor.

As the manager, you have access to status reports and one-on-one team meetings that let you in on the individual activities — and you have the power to draw together the bigger picture. That’s a 10,000-foot view you have that can only otherwise be garnered by tedious round-robin status meetings — and your role here is to disseminate and redistribute that relevant information.

Why this is a needed style: Because decisions one writer makes affect another; because the customers don’t care that ten writers worked on their manuals, but they do care when the manuals contradict each other or create circular references to information that isn’t there. And issues that come up in one product team aren’t always made visible to another team.

The Angle of the Hat Is: When wearing the Scout Leader Hat, use your passive communication methods (visible white board, e-mail) as well as group meetings and impromptu in-the-office mini-meetings to keep people abreast of the situation.

Patron, Sponsor Thy Troupe

Your business card says “Manager.” Your job is also about representing your department to the other managers who tell the other employees under them what to do to assist your people, or where the conflicts being resolved by a team needs to have better results.

A good Patron is much like an announcer in a circus. In times of great achievement, they must be willing to put the spotlight on their people in a company meeting and get them to take their bows. In times of great conflict, you must be the one to represent their interests, convincing other managers to get their people to cooperate with yours. The adage ‘I’ll have my people contact your people’ is never truer than moments like these.

Why this is a needed style: You are the go-between between your employees and director-level folks who can’t always be bothered with learning about each of your team members. You have the positional clout to make requests on behalf of your people because you outrank a chunk of the people in the company; ‘escalation’ starts with you. And you want your department to be remembered for contributing to the company’s bottom line.

The Angle of the Hat Is: When wearing the Patron Hat, you’ll need to look outside your group for opportunities to let your writers shine with respect to the other departments, and to recognize when you are needed to support one of your writers in a difficult negotiation. It means dealing with your peers (other managers) and higher-ups, but that’s part of the “perks” of your position, and you can’t be timid.

Air Traffic Controller

Everyone comes up with their pet project sooner or later. And it’s big. So big that it can’t be done alone, no matter how much your Independents believe they can do it all without sacrificing their regular work. You’re the one who gets to delegate who will work on the big project — or if it gets left in the holding pattern.

A good Air Traffic Controller doesn’t just react to the schedules that the writers come up with to sort them out — they shuffle some of the work around so that the people who are idle get something to do, the people who need growth opportunities get them when they have the most time to appreciate it, and create breathing room for the people who don’t have any.

Why this is a needed style: Because Microsoft Project© isn’t for everyone. Because if you keep an eye on the scheduling for multiple writers, you’ll know when Project A won’t get done because a critical writer took time off.

The Angle of the Hat Is: When wearing the Air Traffic Controller Hat, it may help to think of yourself as an accountant of time with a calendar rather than a checkbook. Communication and coordination are key.


The goal of developing and maintaining a full-featured management hatrack is to see your writers as individuals, with individual needs, strengths, and weaknesses, and that management is about the people, not the positions they occupy. Also, different situations require different handling – there’s a lot more to management than giving orders.

Always remember what your hat is – as well as where it is. People and situations can change over time, and the only wrong response is to insist on wearing just the one hat without seeing out from under the brim.

About the Author

Jeffrey Taldin Young has well over a decade’s worth of technical writing experience across multiple subjects from compilers to API references to lithographic chip simulation software. A graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, he creates innovative documentation designs using his Computer Science degree combined with a love of writing and a lifelong interest in teaching.

Jeff writes short advice pieces and novels (via the National Novel Writing Month Contest) as a hobby, and intends to make the New York Times Best Seller list someday. When it comes to technical writing, his specialties are usability design and testing, rapid prototyping, and reverse-engineering developer code.