How a manager behaves in any specific situation depends on many factors, including how much preparation time they have, but the two most significant factors are their general style preference and the range of options they have within their preference. The role of a coach or mentor is to help them become more aware of their preferences and options, so that they can widen the range of responses and select those most appropriate and effective for each situation.

John Heron’sSix Categories of Intervention dates from 1975 and is a practical way to match intuitively the style and the approach to the situation and the individual within it.

He identifies two main styles of manager intervention: Facilitative and Authoritative, each with three sub-styles. 

Authoritative style, as the name suggests, describes people, who like to take charge. The three choices they have are:

  • Prescriptive – defining for the employee what needs to be done and how (though not necessarily why)
  • Informative – drawing on personal experience to show the employee what to do and what to watch out for
  • Confronting – challenging their thinking, sometimes aggressively, to help them think independently

Facilitative style starts from the assumption that direct reports know what they have to do and how. The three optional approaches are:

  • Cathartic – intervening when they are stuck or frustrated, giving them the emotional support to work through their emotional blockers and finding a solution together
  • Catalytic – helping the direct report discover and reflect upon their strengths and weaknesses, using this knowledge to find ways forward
  • Supportive – helping the direct report build their confidence, self-esteem and sense of contribution to the team’s work.

The coach or mentor can help by:

  • Encouraging the manager to reflect upon their beliefs and their experience of how people react to different styles in different situations
  • Asking “What does this direct report need from you right now to perform at their best?”
  • Asking: “What might you learn by trying out a different style or different options?”
  • Reviewing with the manager his or her experience with these experiments – including feedback from the employee

© David Clutterbuck, 2019

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