Good Bosses Switch Between Two Management Styles

April 7, 2018

Merito Group is a recruitment firm based in Northern Virginia which helps companies employ the best candidates across the country. We often place leaders in roles, from HR Directors to CFOs; we work with the candidate to work to their strengths to become the best leader they can be. The question is: Which management style should a good manager adopt? There have been found to be two styles a good boss will always use in the office to get the best they can out of their employees.

Think back to the last team project you participated in at work. How did the person running the project lead the group? Did they lead by presenting a plan and using their authority to insist that others follow along? Or did the person instead lead by explaining why a particular course of action seemed like the best one, allowing others to willfully get on board?

These two leadership styles, which John Maner and other researchers refer to as dominance and prestige, respectively, reflect two fundamental strategies people use to navigate their way through social and organizational hierarchies. Leading through dominance means influencing others by being assertive and leveraging one’s power and formal authority. Leading through prestige means displaying one’s knowledge and expertise and encouraging others to follow. In the case of dominance, employees usually have little choice but to follow the leader; when it comes to prestige, deference to the leader is more negotiable.

Dominant leaders achieve their goals by asserting their role as the boss, incentivizing people with bonuses and promotions, and coercing people with the threat of punishment. In meetings, they do most of the talking and may even lower the pitch of their voice as a way of intimidating others. Dominant leaders crave power, because power allows them to make decisions knowing that their subordinates will fall in line. As one former Apple employee said about Steve Jobs, a paradigmatic example of a dominant leader: “When Steve was pissed off about something, it got fixed at a pace I’ve never seen…people reacted that fast out of fear.”

Prestige, in contrast, means influencing others by displaying signs of wisdom and expertise and being a role model. Prestige allows people to influence others even in the absence of formal authority or power. Prestigious leaders enjoy being respected and admired, but they aren’t as interested as dominant leaders are in having power or always getting their way. Indeed, prestige-oriented leaders often allow others to set the course, while subtly directing people from behind.

Neither strategy is necessarily better than the other. Some leadership situations call for dominance, whereas others call for prestige. Being maximally effective as a leader means being able to diagnose the situation and adopt the leadership approach that works best. Switching back and forth between the two approaches depends on the task at hand and one’s organizational culture.

Jon Maner is a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. To read more on his fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review, please click here.


Merito Group is a small women-owned business providing excellence in outsourced talent acquisition solutions including retained executive search, RPO, and consulting services. Looking to hire exceptional talent? Contact us by email or 703-734-6340. To view our current career opportunities click here.

Copyright Merito Group LLC © 2021

Copyright Merito Group LLC © 2021