Mixing Management Styles to Better Lead Your Lab Staff

If you've recently stepped into a higher role at the lab, or if you've been a lab manager for some time but want to hone your managerial skills further, you'll want to think about how to adopt and use different leadership styles to your advantage.

A leadership style refers to a set of behaviors that help you effectively motivate, direct, and manage a group of people. There are a number of possible leadership styles you can choose from, and more than one may fit your needs. The challenge is finding which management styles can work for you and your lab — and which aren't a good fit.

Traditional Types of Leadership

Naturally, there are a variety of personalities to manage in any lab team, which makes a one-size-fits-all leadership style impossible. But before you begin to sift through specific leadership styles, it helps to consider where your personality fits into a few broad categories.

As outlined in an article for Verywell Mind, the following three leadership styles were first identified in 1939 by a group of psychological researchers:

  • Authoritarian leadership (autocratic): First up was a style that you might call "command and control." Leaders in this category aim to provide clear guidance on what, how, and when a task needs to be completed.
  • Participative leadership (democratic): This style is essentially the opposite of authoritarian leadership. In this category, while leaders generally retain the final word on how best to complete a task, they are more open to input from team members. When decisions are made this way, employees tend to feel more engaged and are encouraged to be more creative.
  • Delegative leadership (laissez-faire): The third category stretches the definition of leadership, in that it focuses largely on delegating decision-making to team members. The researchers noted, however, that laissez-faire leadership tended to have poor results due to the lack of organization and accountability.

It's important to understand that the most successful approaches are a mix of the styles discussed above, meaning you'll have to take the reins and deploy different leadership styles to suit different situations.

Common Management Styles Today

Since the study conducted in 1939, there have been many additional leadership patterns identified by researchers and experts. These approaches differ in how involved the leader is in day-to-day decisions, as well as in how much support they offer to employees.

The Transformational Leader

These leaders prefer to engage staff by laying out a vision for their organization's future successes and challenges, without necessarily mapping out each and every step. This is often cited as the most effective management style, as it supports the positive development of your team members.

Transformational leaders put inspiration — rather than authority — at the forefront, according to Forbes. To become one, you can start by making efforts to reiterate why your work in the water industry matters. Consider hosting share sessions where you discuss how your test protected a nearby facility from an increasing Legionella threat and just how significant tasks like this are for protecting public health.

This can also be achieved through an internal newsletter, where you can share company wins and news on water safety risks gaining traction so everyone can stay in the know. When employees know why their work is so important, it can fuel them to be more invested in and passionate about their time at the lab.

The Transactional Leader

This approach defines the employee-employer relationship as an exchange of effort for monetary compensation. While it may not inspire your team as much as the transformational style, it does clearly define everyone's roles and expectations.

While you can have this type of relationship with all employees, it might prove especially useful with a seasonal worker you've hired to collect samples or a part-time intern assigned to one specific task. Make it known that you may consider offering more hours to high-performing employees or put their name in for full-time opportunities down the road. Not to mention, merit-based raises can be a huge productivity driver for your regular employees.

This leader reiterates that at the end of the day, employees come to work to work and that a paycheck is an even exchange for hard, precise efforts.

The Coaching Leader

Forbes describes this type of leader as being a giver rather than a taker. You're invested in the growth, development, and goals of your employees without a hidden agenda. This approach can help you support and retain your best employees and position them for success in higher-level roles.

You can adopt a coaching style by taking some time to work on the bench alongside staff members of all experience levels. This one-on-one time enables you to see what they're doing well and areas in which they can improve. Not only that, but it gives you an opportunity to correct any missteps as they happen, which will only improve your lab as a whole in the long run.

The Delegating Leader

This is a hands-off approach in which your staff makes the majority of decisions on their own with little support from you. Consider this style only if your staff is highly self-motivated, engaged, and capable of completing quality work without much oversight.

You can also modify this approach to give a rising employee some additional responsibility. For instance, you could have an all-star employee join you on client visits to get a feel for how these interactions go or even join you at an industry conference. By seeing what a day in the life is like for a lab manager, they may be more motivated to work toward a leadership role — or, at the least, serve as a second in command.

The bottom line: There isn't one right or wrong leadership style for your lab. A good measure of your success as a manager will come down to your self-assessment and your willingness to pick and choose which leadership styles suit your lab and your team members best.

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Jeff Rowe
Writer and Editor

For the past 25 years, Jeff Rowe has worked as a writer and an editor for the nonfiction and professional markets, including researching, writing, and editing feature articles, blog posts, speeches, project reports, and magazine essays. He has published numerous articles and essays on developments in health care and health information technology, the home medical equipment market, natural resource and environmental issues, and food topics. He has also been editor and community manager for numerous industry-targeted websites, as well as author of a developing series of novels set in medieval Spain.