Being a manager is like conducting an orchestra. You can work with the world’s top musicians, but if you can’t properly organize their efforts, that free-flowing symphony will turn into a cacophony.
Your job is to make all those different, unique instruments perform harmoniously.
And your potential employers?
They want to understand if your conducting style matches their needs and tastes. That’s precisely why they ask the pivotal “what is your management style?” question.
Crafting a good answer forms your crescendo, demonstrating your leadership potential, adaptability, and harmony with the company’s culture.
(Remember, though, that this question isn’t just for those standing on the podium of corporate hierarchy. Anyone leading a small team or even project should expect it.)
In this guide, I’ll help you make sure you produce a masterpiece.
- What makes the management style interview question so important.
- How to describe your management style to best showcase your cultural fit.
- Sample answers to “what is your management style” for different industries and seniority levels.
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Here’s how to answer “what is your management style?”
The best answer to the “what is your management style” interview question will show the interviewer that you’re able to adjust your leadership style depending on the needs of your team and the particular situation. You can mention your most natural style (for instance, democratic), while showing that you’re capable of adapting to any work environment.
Why “What is Your Management Style?” Is a Crucial Interview Question
As a manager, you drive your team towards their objectives. Those, in turn, contribute to the overall success of the organization. If you do your job well, everyone in the company wins.
Why do they ask about your management style?
Before they hire you, your employers need to gauge whether your approach to leadership suits the needs of the company, in general, and the team you’d be leading, in particular.
They ask about your leadership style to:
- Evaluate your managerial skill set. This includes your potential to guide a team, delegate tasks, inspire employees, solve problems, and navigate challenges.
- Check your alignment with company culture. By understanding your style, they can decide how well you will fit within the company’s culture and how effectively you would interact with existing team members.
- Assess your adaptability. The style you describe can also imply how adaptable you are. Can you flex your style based on team needs, project requirements, or changes within the company?
- Get insight into your past experiences. Your answer can reveal real-life instances where you demonstrated your leadership style and where you had to adapt your style to the situation. It’s best if you provide the interviewer with concrete examples (those are pure gold in any interview, it’s much better to describe a situation where you had to adapt than just say you’re “adaptive”).
A good answer to this question will:
- Give an overview of your managerial philosophy.
- Explain how you work with others, solve conflict, motivate your team, and make decisions.
- Show how your approach to leadership evolved through key experiences and lessons.
Pro tip: I can’t stress that enough, the “management style” question extends beyond those with manager in their job title. It’s valid for team leaders, project coordinators, or even senior developers. Your answer will reflect your potential effectiveness in any leadership role.
For more information on how to answer all questions leadership (not just about your style), see: Common Behavioral Interview Questions About Leadership Skills
What Are the Types of Management Styles?
Yes, management theory differentiates a few main styles of leadership and, yes, it’s helpful to know what they are.
So, let’s cover the theoretical basics.
The primary management styles are:
An autocratic manager makes decisions largely without consulting their team. They prefer to retain control, making all major decisions and dictating work methods.
- Quick decision-making process.
- Clearly defined roles within the team.
- Promotes a high level of accountability.
- May lead to decreased team creativity.
- Potential for low employee morale due to lack of input.
- Can antagonize team members against management.
In contrast, democratic managers share decision-making with the team, promoting participation and open communication.
- Might enhance team morale by involving employees in decision-making.
- Encourages creativity and innovation.
- Decision-making process can be time-consuming.
- Risks of “decision by committee,” leading to less effective solutions.
- Might lead to lack of identifiable ownership over key processes and decisions.
Pro tip: A 2012 study pointed out that democratic style of management is particularly effective in conflict resolution. Not surprisingly, that same study advised against the use of autocratic management techniques in managing workplace conflicts.
Laissez-faire managers give subordinates significant freedom in how they do their work, offering guidance when needed but largely being hands-off. In other words, your direct reports get the business context and the tools necessary for them to succeed. And you don’t get in their way.
- Encourages autonomy and ownership in skilled, motivated teams.
- Fosters creativity and innovation.
- May lead to lack of direction if the team lacks self-discipline.
- Risks of low accountability and inconsistent results.
- Ineffective in early-stage companies.
Pro tip: Ever heard of the “let go to grow” strategy? It implies that, as an organization evolves, it’s beneficial for managers to become less involved and less hands-on in day-to-day operations. Research suggests that highly involved management becomes less and less effective with each stage of company development.
Transformational managers work particularly when the organization undergoes some sort of transformation, hence the name. The leader’s role, then, is to inspire their team through a shared vision, and high expectations, often leading to enhanced morale and performance, thanks to embracing change and adaptability.
- Boosts team morale by linking the work to broader goals.
- Frequently leads to better team performance and innovation.
- May lead to high pressure and stress if expectations are not managed well.
- Risk of the leader being overly focused on the “grand scheme of things” and, therefore, out-of-touch with the realities and the “mundane” challenges of the workplace.
Relational managers prioritize relationships and emphasize empathy, understanding and open communication.
- Fosters a supportive and trusting team environment.
- Can lead to increased commitment and morale among team members.
- May lead to difficulty in making tough decisions that could affect relationships.
- Risk of being seen as too lenient or lacking authority.
At the same time, remember —
Every manager has a unique blend of styles they employ depending on the situation at hand. The best managers are masters at adapting the managerial style to a particular situation.
An ideal answer to “what is your management style,” should cover how you mix and match managerial techniques and how exactly you decide which one to choose.
It all boils down to understanding your team, the situation, and the deliverable — and then selecting the right color from your management palette.
Before You Answer: How to Identify Your Management Style?
Yeah, it’s a tough one.
I remember scratching my head over this about five years ago while gearing up for my first big interview for a managerial role.
How do I pin down my management style to one concept? What does “managerial style” even mean?
If you’re having these thoughts, that’s fine — my thoughts exactly 5 years back.
But then a light-bulb-moment came:
💡 Figuring out your management style isn’t about trying to fit into a set category like “autocratic” or “democratic.”
Nope, it’s more about taking note of your own instincts when you’re put in the driver’s seat. Usually, you’ll find your style is a unique cocktail of different management flavors.
Here are a few steps to help you figure out your unique management style:
Reflect on your experiences
Think about your past leadership moments, not just in workplaces, but in all aspects of life. How did you behave? How did you approach decisions, conflict, and motivation?
A wonderful source of insight could be the feedback you’ve received over the years from mentors, colleagues, or reports. Your perception of your management style may not always match how others perceive you.
Identify your values and goals
What are the primary values and goals that underpin your approach to management? Is it integrity, collaboration, results-orientation, or a mix?
Acknowledge your influences
Our management styles are also often shaped by the managers we have worked with. Take a thought ride to identify which manager you admired the most and why. Similarly, think of managers you disliked or ones you knew were inefficient and poorly organized. You must have sworn to never repeat their mistakes — make sure you in fact won’t.
Once you’ve done all this, you will have a clearer picture of your brand of leadership. Remember, there’s no “right” or “wrong” here.
If you’re interviewing for your first EVER managerial position and freaking out, relax. We’ve got you covered. Read this guide: First-Time Manager Interview Questions and Answers
Not your first managerial gig, but the first one in a new industry? Check out: Interview Questions for Career-Changers (and How to Answer)
And make sure you see our dedicated guide for managers in one of the most popular professions: Customer Service Manager Interview Questions and Answers
Being aware of your style is the first step towards leveraging it effectively during your next job interview. Speaking of which…
How to Answer the “What is Your Management Style?” Interview Question
Okay, you’ve taken a stroll down memory lane to figure out your unique approach to management.
Let’s talk about how to offer a compelling response when an interviewer throws the all-important “management style” question your way.
Talk about concrete examples
Think of real-life scenarios where you’ve demonstrated your management style. Concrete examples resonate better than abstract descriptions.
Did you encourage your team to share opinions and insights before a major project decision? Did you trust your team to work flexibly from home while ensuring targets were met?
These experiences and your lessons from them are the stories that bring your management style to life.
Make use of the STAR method
Whenever speaking about your managerial experience, throw in some storytelling by using the STAR framework. STAR stands for Situation–Task–Action–Result.
- Situation: the overall context of the managerial challenge.
- Task: what your goal was.
- Action: what you did and how you did it.
- Result: how your actions impacted the business.
This formula is so effective because it automatically guides your narrative and makes your story both interesting and easy to grasp.
Potential employers will immediately know why the challenge was important, what exact steps you took to address it, and what results you delivered.
Big Interview’s Answer Builder can help you create a perfect answer using the STAR technique. You’ll be able to list and filter the points you’d like to mention, add details and rearrange the order to create a compelling story.
What’s even better, you’ll get tips personalized for management or executive positions to help you answer the most common questions for managers!
Align with the company culture
But be subtle. Don’t lift phrases from their “mission and values” page. Rather, pick relevant instances of when you showed certain managerial characteristics.
If the company prides itself on creative exploration, your laissez-faire management moments would be worth highlighting. Conversely, if the company operates in a high-risk environment requiring tight controls, it would be worthwhile to spotlight times when you had to adopt a more directive stance for the team’s benefit.
Here’s what our very own CEO, Alex, had to say about the “ideal” management style:
The right management style has to be tailored to the people you’re surrounded by. Of course, we all have innate styles, and you’ll always be biased towards using that “own” style. But to make your message land, you need to understand how the other person communicates and adapt. The way you communicate is what builds trust.
Remember, answering “What is your management style?” is not about reading the interviewer’s mind to deliver the “perfect” answer.
It’s about providing an authentic reflection of your leadership approach, backed by real-life proof and tailored to the context of the company and role. Stack these components together, and you’re good to go.
Now, let’s see some sample great answers to “what is your management style.” (And notice how each of these answers follows the STAR formula I talked about earlier.)
Sample Answers to “What is Your Management Style?”
Answer from a first-time manager in a tech startup
What is your management style?
I’d describe my management style as coach-like, focusing on empowering my team members. A specific example of this is from my previous role, where a new software update had everyone on edge (Situation). My task was to ensure the team could navigate these changes smoothly (Task). I encouraged everyone to explore this update themselves, and I organized weekly knowledge sharing sessions where everyone could discuss what they learned (Action). This approach not only helped the team adapt to the update faster, but also fostered an environment of constant learning and problem-solving, which led to smoother operations and increased confidence among team members (Result).
Answer from a mid-level manager in retail
Describe your management style.
My management style is a combination of democratic and authoritarian. This was especially highlighted during the holiday season in the retail store I managed (Situation). We faced the challenge of extended store working hours with the same team size (Task). I took a decisive step by preparing an initial schedule while giving my team the opportunity to swap shifts amongst themselves if needed (Action). This led to fewer complaints, less turnover during a critical period, and a more satisfied team that maintained high service levels — which was measured by both our NPS scores and responses to client surveys (Result).
Answer from a senior-level executive in the finance sector
What management style do you prefer?
I would describe my preferred management style as result-oriented and transformational. In my prior role as a senior finance manager, we were tasked to streamline the budgeting process (Situation). I was responsible for leading this change (Task). I communicated this change clearly to my team and organized workshops to help them understand the new process. Plus, I emphasized how this change would align with our company’s future financial stability (Action). This approach motivated my team, and we successfully implemented the new process, cutting the budgeting timeline by 20% and reducing errors (Result).
Note: These responses are tailored to reflect different experiences across varying roles and industries. None of these answers would have worked for a different scenario — and that’s precisely the point! They should give you an idea of how to structure your answer using the STAR method. Above all, remember to make your answer true to your own experiences and management style.
When interviewing for a management position, you’ll be asked a lot of manager-specific questions, sure. That said, there are some general interview “classics” you won’t escape.
Learn about how to best answer those:
- How do you handle conflict?
- What are your key strengths?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Tell me about yourself
- Why should we hire you?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What are your salary expectations?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why did you leave your last job?
- Describe your current job responsibilities
How to Tailor Your “Management Style” Answer to the Company Culture
A confident, relevant, truthful answer to “describe your leadership style” is great. What’s even better?
Subtly tailoring it to align with the company’s culture.
Here’s how to do it:
Research the company
Take a deep dive into the company’s website, blogs, social media platforms, and recent news. Look for mission statements, core values, or descriptions of the work environment. Connect the dots to comprehend the company’s ethos.
Understand the interviewer’s intent
The interviewer isn’t testing your knowledge of management theory. Rather, they’re eager to envision whether your approach to leadership melds with the demands of the role and the vibe of their workplace.
Do some detective work beforehand about the company and specific role. A start-up might be after a more hands-on manager who pitches in on daily tasks, while an established corporate environment might prefer someone who adopts a more delegative approach.
More on that right below.
Understand the role
Thoroughly read the job description. Often, subtle cues about the preferred management style and the working environment are embedded there. A role requiring “collaborative decision-making,” for instance, signals they might be looking for a democratic management style. A job description where they talk about “extreme ownership” might be ideal for managers who are primarily driven by business results.
Let’s take these two examples of job descriptions for very similar roles, you’ll see what I mean.
The first one comes from a series-A fintech startup:
They’re pretty in-your-face with what matters here — delivering specific results on time. Interviewing for this role, you’d have to highlight your ability to organize the work of your team around deadlines and foster a result-centric approach.
No wonder — they’re at a stage where if they fail to make the forecast revenue goals, they’re in all sorts of trouble.
Now, an identical position from a much larger, more established organization in the urban technology field:
Notice how frequently this job ad mentions “collaboration,” “developing” or “creating” content based on research, user insights, internal feedback. Of course, this company has goals to hit as well, but they don’t necessarily need to be freaked out about their runway.
They can afford some more leeway for experimentation, creativity and cross-functional teamwork.
When interviewing for this role, you should bring your democratic managerial traits forward, and maybe throw in a story or two about how you encourage creativity and exploration on your teams.
Probe during the interview
Interviews aren’t a one-way street. Feel free to ask questions that can shed light on the company culture and preferred management style. For instance, you might ask, “How are decisions usually made here?” or “What qualities do successful managers at your company share?”
Once you’ve gathered this information, infuse it into your responses. For example, if you learn the company encourages an innovative spirit, you might highlight instances when you helped foster creativity in your team.
Above all, remember: stay authentic.
Be sure you’re comfortable with the culture you’re adapting yourself to. After all, if you’re successful, you’ll be working there — you wouldn’t want to “fake it till you make it” *daily*, right?
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Talking About Your Methods of Management
Avoiding the question
If you’re vague or try to sidestep this question, it may seem like you lack self-awareness or are unsure about your management skills. Being direct and transparent about your style shows confidence and honesty.
Stating just one style
While it’s important to have a go-to style, insisting that you rigidly stick to one might imply your lack of adaptability. As we’ve discussed, great managers often blend styles based on different situations and personnel.
But even if you think one managerial style is predominant in your case (and even if it matches what the company is looking for), don’t just say “oh, I’m 100% a democratic leader” and leave it at that. Always back up your claims with real-life examples.
Are you a “people person?” Do you “lead by example?” Is your “door always open?”
Great. All that might be true. All that will also sound horrible during a job interview.
See, statements like that don’t tell the interviewer much about your unique approach. Always use specific examples to illustrate your style and its effectiveness.
Ignoring company culture
Not tailoring your answer to what the company needs will kill your chances. On the other hand, lying about your managerial style just to get your foot in the door will be just as ineffective (or leave you miserable if, somehow, it works).
We’re all chameleons to some degree, adapting our colors based on our surroundings, sure. So claiming to be a 100% autocratic manager simply because you know the company leans towards a more structured, authoritative style can feel tempting. The problem is — you won’t be able to pretend forever and that will catch up with you.
Summary of the Main Points
- The main purpose of the “what is your management style?” question is to discover your approach to leadership, as well as your adaptability and cultural fit.
- To figure out your primary management style, reflect on past experiences, gather feedback from others, and identify what values and goals are the most important to you.
- When answering this question, provide examples that illustrate your leadership style and make sure to align your response with the company’s culture.
- Don’t say that you have just one management style. Instead, show how you can identify the right managerial approach depending on the context and situation.
Need a hand? There are 4 ways we can help:
- Tired of interviewing and not landing the job? Discover actionable lessons and interview practice here (Rated with 4.9/5 by 1,000,000 users).
- Learn the best strategies for taming the beast of “selling yourself:” How to Sell Yourself in a Job Interview
- Eyeing a career change? See: 18+ Career Change Interview Questions and Answers
- Learn how to tackle behavioral interview questions (you can expect a lot of those in a managerial interview): Behavioral Interview Questions and Answers
What management style is the most effective?
The most effective management style varies depending on the team and the context. However, consistent research and literature review indicates that transformational management — where leaders inspire and motivate employees towards a shared vision — is frequently effective across diverse team landscapes.
What are the main types of management styles?
There are five main types of management styles:
- Autocratic: Managers make decisions without employee input.
- Democratic (Participative): Decisions are made collectively, with team members’ input valued.
- Laissez-faire: Managers offer minimal guidance and allow team members to make decisions.
- Transformational: Managers inspire and motivate employees towards a shared vision.
- Relational: Managers focus on building and fostering relationships with team members.
How to become a better manager?
- Engage in continuous learning about leadership and management practices.
- Actively seek feedback from your team and superiors about your performance.
- Develop effective communication and active listening skills.
- Regularly set clear expectations and provide constructive feedback.
- Nurture team development and build trusting relationships.
- Adopt an adaptable management style, tailoring your approach to team members’ individual needs.
How to answer the questions about my management style when interviewing for my first-ever management role?
- Refer to your experiences leading projects or teams, even if not in an official management role.
- Combine different management styles, show understanding of their advantages and relevant scenarios.
- Stay honest — avoid stating you follow a style that you don’t truly align with.
- Link your management style to the needs of the position or the company culture.
- Use concrete examples to illustrate how you’ve used your management style practically, even if not in a formally managerial role.
What if I’m asked to describe my management style in 5 words?
Choose strong, positive and descriptive words that best sum up your approach. Examples include: “collaborative,” “adaptive,” “result-oriented,” “transparent,” and “inspiring.”
Are there any quizzes to help me better understand my management style?
Yes, numerous online quizzes can help identify your management style. Some examples include the MindTools Leadership Styles Quiz, the Your Leadership Legacy Quiz, and the Hay Group’s Leadership Styles Questionnaire. These assessments can provide insights into your natural inclinations as a manager. However, remember to not rely on the results fully — rather, consider them in light of your own experiences and feedback from others.