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Hands-on Managers vs Hands-off Managers
Hands on and hands off manager 1

Hands-on Managers vs Hands-off Managers

By Kirstin Miller

As a manager you will be facing various quandaries whose resolution will depend solely upon how you prefer to manage.

Being a manager is much more than just instructing people what to do. True management is being able to select the right approach and style to deal with specific situations. Organizations spend millions every year training their managers and employees for exactly this. It is estimated by the American Society of Training and Development that in 2011, companies spent nearly $156 million on developing and training their employee base.

The corporate world has undergone a dramatic change over the past decade. Organizations are global and workforce is more diverse than ever before. Not to mention, there is a plethora of technological distractions around them.

New managers, and sometimes even old warhorses, are at a loss about how to get the most out of their employees. Some managers prefer to be relatively laidback; others choose a more autocratic approach. There are a host of different styles of managers but they can broadly be classified into two distinct styles, hands-on and hands-off.

Hands-on Management

A hands-on manager is actively involved in some work that is similar to that of his employees. He is never completely detached from the day-to-day needs and operations of the business. A hands-on manager will take time out to coach his team and associates and is actively invested in their
progress. He spends time interacting directly with the employees and collaborating on projects. They always keep lines of communication open and take an active part in providing regular feedback and employee mentoring.

These managers are constantly on the perimeter of things happening in the office, if not smack in the middle. They are like the coach of a sports team, showing, observing and shaping their employees in the way best suited for their organization.

An ideal hands-on manager is well aware of the difference between teaching, training and coaching. He has an acute understanding of how to tailor employee development for each level of the corporate ladder.

For ideal application of this management style, the manager needs to effectively train the trainers. The team leaders need to be advised to support, reinforce and contribute in the efforts of the employees.

Advantages of Hands-on Management

  • It gives the manager access to more ideas from the customers as well as the employees. This can work in favor of the manager if approached with an open mind.
  • Managers gain a deeper and more insightful understanding of their business.
  • The attitude of such managers, of getting down in the trenches, often earns them the respect of their employees.
  • It helps the managers recognize the importance of employee input and they are  more often than not good mentors.

It helps keep the employees focused because of the boss’s consistent participation.

Disadvantages of Hands-on Management

  • Such managers run the risk of beginning to micromanage.
  • It may not be applicable to every business scenario. For example, new employees need help until they learn the job, any more and they may rebel.
  • Managers adopting this method may find themselves at a loss when dealing with a demotivated employee. Here they can try giving the employee positive rewards for meeting assignments, and punishments for failing to meet the goals.
  • A hands-on manager may fail to back off a motivated high-performer, thus cramping their productivity and motivation.
  • Employees may begin to consider such a boss their buddy.


Hands-off Management

One of the oldest adages in business is, “hire brilliant people, then leave them to do their job.” There is a great deal of wisdom in that saying.

In this age of endless emails, numerous calls and heaps of reports, an over-involved manager can be a pain. Managers who adopt the hands-off approach to management often trust their team enough to let them work by themselves.

These leaders do not feel the need to coddle their employees or team leaders, and are only concerned with the macro perspective. They manage through their team leaders and never bypass the line of authority. They often take chances and risks because they know their team is competent enough to handle any additional pressure that may come with it. This kind of manager focuses heavily on other aspects of business, like expansion, diversification, etc.

Technology, such as simple project management software can help managers stay hands-off, while still staying abreast of what’s going on in the business.

Advantages of Hands-off Management

  • It gives the employees a sense of fulfillment, as they know they are trusted to manage their own work.
  • It helps foster creativity and growth in employees as it allows them to come up with solutions rather than being told what to do.
  • It allows for the manager to take up big projects and work on tight schedules, because he knows each employee is deeply invested in their role.
  • It gives the leader confidence of being able to deliver when there is a lack of time.
  • Because of effective compartmentalization of roles, everyone on the team knows exactly what they need to do. It allows the team leaders to be effectively in charge, with the leader keeping an eye on the progress through their reports.

Disadvantages of Hands-off Management

  • It can make the manager over-confident of his team’s abilities.
  • Very few managers with this style of management know the grassroots processes of their business.
  • With only the team lead to answer to, such managers can often lose control of their employees, and subsequently the quality of their output, if they do not keep checks.
  • Not being at the front lines of the business often means missing out on tiny details important to the survival of your business. Such managers often will not be able to spot the rot in the system until it is too late.
  • Such managers will be unable to mentor their employees unless they make a special effort.


There is always a need for balance, more so in managing people than anywhere else. Focus on understanding the situation before you start scrambling for a solution.

Having faith in your team does not make you a hands-off manager; it makes you a smart manager. Mentoring your employees does not make you a micromanager; it makes you a guide every newbie deserves. The need of the hour is a manager with a balance of both these styles. Be that manager.

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