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What is the Golden Mean for Managerial Control?

Is it possible for one person to handle every management challenge? Enter the golden mean.

Golden mean” is a term that describes the middle ground for two opposites, and is meant to signify the best possible compromise. For the management world, the golden mean is the optimal style of leadership – is it better to be a dictator, or a nice guy? Is it even possible for one person to handle every management challenge? (This means more than turning a profit. It also means retaining your best employees, creating long-term efficiency, supervising organizational change, and many other requirements for success.)

Well, the answer is yes – but only for someone who can adjust their management style to the type of people they are leading, and the priorities of the organization at the moment.

The golden mean is more about finding the middle ground between your natural leadership style and the type of group you are leading than it is about a one-size-fits-all approach. Each group and each situation can require a radically different approach. If you’re an Alpha personality, or always want to find a compromise, or even a laissez-faire type, you can still manage across organizations and situations.

Sheepdogs for Unskilled Teams and Crises

A sheepdog is always on the lookout for dangers to the flock, and similarly, a sheepdog manager feels a need for complete control of the team.

Yes, despite the silly name, this is an actual management style, and it is used for teams that don’t have or require a high level of skill. It’s also sometimes necessary to use this method when there is a crisis that demands fast action and so doesn’t allow time for the opinions of others to be considered.

The task of the sheepdog manager is to provide one way communication with clearly defined, unchanging perimeters and goals. Unless there is a problem, there is no expectation for employees to ask questions or provide advice. Individuals in this situation might resent the disregard for their ideas; this is not an environment for the ambitious, unless there is a clear path to promotion.

An autocratic manager will naturally use this style. However, a boss who is seeking consensus can also take total control, but by explaining their actions to the team as a way of seeming less like a dictator. Even a manager who hates conflict can become a sheepdog by adopting a paternalistic approach – not aggressive, but not allowing much argument or advice, either.

Democracy for Competent Teams and Change

In a democratic management situation, the boss wants democracy, but only to a certain point. They either desire or need their team to be part of a managerial decision or new process, but the democratic manager always has the final word. It’s like they have 51% of the vote.

This is the ideal style for dealing with teams that are skilled but not yet independent. Perhaps there is a new concept or strategy coming, or a problem that the team might be able to help solve. This is often the situation in faced-paced companies, or those looking for the next generation of managers.

Here, the communication is two way, often through meetings and long evaluation processes where many opinions are considered. As part of the ideation process, team members must be given information beyond their immediate jobs.

Consensus-seeking managers do best with this style, but even Alpha leaders will accept opinions when they need to. All managers in this situation must make sure not to show favoritism to the people with the best ideas, because that will cause difficulty in executing those ideas. It’s also important to place limits on the time-intensive process of hearing numerous points of view.

Hands-Off for Innovation and Superior Skill

Sometimes a boss can’t act like a boss if they want the best performance from their team.

In a situation where team members know more about their specialty than their manager, and/or when innovation is essential for survival, even the most controlling leader must take a background role.

The value of the manager in a hands-off position is to explain the mission, delegate tasks, smooth-out conflicts, take delivery, and provide feedback. Otherwise, making decisions and resolving problems is up to the team.

Managers who desire a more active part, or want to provide extra motivation, can take on an evangelical duty. This means getting the staff motivated by explaining the vision of the company and how they are vital to it.

Good Luck with That

It’s actually rare for managers to succeed in many central tasks 75% of employees say that their boss is the most stressful element of their job, a fact that undoubtedly has an effect on productivity. But, if you have the ability to “wear different hats” and adapt your personality to these three managerial types, then you, your teams, and your company will all benefit, particularly in the long run.


Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.