To hear most employees tell it, bosses come in two varieties: Micromanagers who oversee a worker’s every move with hawk-like vigilance, and hands-off types who are basically missing in action any time someone needs advice or authorization.

Only 33% of small business owners want to grow their businesses making employee management of existing workers absolutely crucial.

That’s not far from reality, according to a recent survey done for Sandler Training, a worldwide sales training firm based in Owings Mills, Maryland. Sandler’s poll of 1,010 workers found more than a third (35 percent) described bosses as either “Missing in action” (19 percent) or “Micromanagers” (16 percent).

The responses showing the prevalence of hands-off and micromanagement styles didn’t shock Sandler CEO Dave Mattson. “If you look at it from the perspective of employees, it’s always black and white,” he says. “They’re either missing in action and hands-off, or they’re all over people.”

What’s not so black-and-white is which style is best — or worse. Micromanagers, according to West Chester, Pennsylvania, business coach Kelly Roach, can stifle employees with their hovering style, and stop them from applying new ideas and innovations.

Excessively hands-off managers, meanwhile, can leave employees unaware of objectives, unsupplied with resources and unequipped with support. Either outcome can lead to cramped productivity, poor morale and costly turnover. “Ultimately it is very damaging to the bottom line when an employee is managed the wrong way,” Roach says.

At the same time, both micromanaging and hands-off managing can be appropriate styles. Micromanaging is practically required when overseeing people who aren’t well-suited to the task and haven’t been supplied with clear tasks, says Billie Blair, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based consulting firm Change Strategists.

Hands-off also has its place. “When you’ve hired competent people, provided them with adequate information about the company via strategy sessions, and set out required tasks and routines for them with finish dates, then it’s absolutely possible to be a hands-off manager, she says. Blair says that hands-off is, overall, the most effective and efficient style, when circumstances call for it.

So should every manager be able to be micromanager or hands-off manager, depending on requirements? That is it exactly, according to these experts. In fact, it’s essential. “I don’t think either of those two styles is more effective,” says Mattson. “My style as leader shouldn’t dictate how I’m going to do it. The situation should dictate the style of manager.”

New employees are more likely to need micromanaging, while experienced workers with proven track records benefit from hands-off, says Roach. In some environments, however, such as creative and design functions, hands-off will generally be the preferred approach, she adds.

Mattson says the hands-off/micromanager decision is becoming more critical today because employee-to-manager ratios are steadily climbing. A manager with more subordinates has a harder time being hands-on, simply due to limitations of time and energy, he says.

Whatever an individual manager’s current situation, these experts encourage them to develop dual capabilities and then avoid letting personal preference or limitations cause them default to what could be the wrong approach. “If you have to micromanage, okay,” Mattson says. “If you choose to be hands-off, okay. But do it on purpose.”

For another perspective on boss types, check out this infographic.

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