Are You A Hands-Off Or Hands-On Leader?


When I go looking for a new car, I am always amazed at how many choices there are available. I am also surprised why people choose cars that seem so unappealing to me or ones, which would not complement the way I live and work. Since I am a trainer, I am always throwing large flip charts into the back of my car, so I need an automobile with an easy lift back. I also live in a climate that has snow in the winter, so I typically choose an SUV to insure I can get to clients in different weather conditions. Well just like car models, there are many different styles of leading and not one style fits all leadership sizes. Of course that doesn’t mean that certain ways of leading, just like car types, can sometimes be more beneficial in different situations.


Last week I met a leader of a marketing department in one of my workshops who seemed very successful with her team. In fact, several of the team members were in the program too, and validated what a great manager she was. Her leadership style was described as Hands-Off and the opposite of a micro-manager. The members of her team applauded her the way she allowed them to “do their thing” as long as goals were met. Would this style work for all teams and all leaders in all circumstances?

 Before you answer, yes, think about it. Is a Hands-On style preferable in any environment? What about these team situations?

New procedures are being implemented

Anytime there is a shift in the flow of work, it may be necessary for leaders to roll up their sleeves and observe how the process is moving. If we want to make sure the new set of steps runs effectively, we may want to be more than a fly on the wall, but rather more like a beaver helping to build a dam. Does the change make sense? Does everybody clearly understand his or her new responsibilities? 

Personality conflicts on the team

Although we may want to initially allow team members to sort out their differences, there may be a time when that just doesn’t work. Ask yourself if it may be best to meet with the sparring parties to help ease the tension and to facilitate a discussion to help negotiate a settlement. Stepping in may be necessary to allow a cool down and refocus.

Deadlines are being missed

The buck stops with the team leader and that means we are ultimately responsible for not meeting our goals or working in a timely way. We may need to uncover the reason why we can’t complete deliverables in the timeframe requested by our clients. Here leaders must jump in and help or analyze the reason for the delay.

 A new team is forming

Whenever we create a new team or are asked to lead a team that we have not worked with before, it is probably prudent to be involved in learning the daily operations as well as getting to know the members of the team. Recognizing the strengths and blind spots of people we work alongside, can help a new team get up to speed more quickly.

What is your leadership style- Hands-Off or Hands-On? Do you lead with both?

 (photo credit)




12 thoughts on “Are You A Hands-Off Or Hands-On Leader?

  1. Terri, A balance. When change needs to happen, leaders cannot be hands-off in all. There is a certain direction that needs to be taken and a leader needs to be hands-on in influencing others to join in and do their part. When others “sign up” for doing a part of the new mission, a leader needs to give them room to pursue the initiative. This is a hands-off way, as long we the overall change is being realized. Getting the balance right is the leader’s challenge. Great points. Thanks! Jon

  2. You nailed it, Jon, when you talk about “balance” for leaders to be hands-off or hands-on. When we lead we need to recognize which situation and environment calls for our deeper involvement. And I agree that when there is change, it is essential that leaders set the stage, model the way, and then allow others to fly.

    I sometimes think that leaders feel they must be one or the other and this is not the case. Also, one is not necessarily better; it all depends on the team and the circumstances.

    Thanks Jon!

  3. Everything in leadership is about having the right combination of being hands on and being hands off.

    Great leaders instill confidence to those around them so can they can be great when they are hands off.

    Great article.

    Thanks for all that you do!

    Lolly Daskal
    Lead From Within

  4. It is about the right combination, Lolly and our abilities as leaders to figure out when to step in and when to let go.

    You speak about instilling confidence in those around us and that is something an outstanding leader can do by empowering their team to take charge. When teams feel that their leader believes they can carry out the goals without them, it is a great motivator for high performance.

    I so appreciate you Lolly and your great insights!


  5. It depends upon the situation, Terri. There have been times when hands-on has instilled motivation and direction for my team. There have been other times when hands-off was better for both them and me.

    This is great topic! It’s important for leaders to think about their natural tendencies, but then mix that with 1) the situation, and 2) the team’s personality.

    Most important is that we recognize when it’s time to be one or the other….

    Great post, Terri!

  6. In the program that I presented, the topic was DiSC Leadership and we did actually talk about our preferential styles of communication and interactions with others. The manager did say that she usually had a hands-off style because it suited her and her team’s preference.

    It only gets tricky when a particular situation calls for a leader to pivot and become more hands-off or more hands-on. Then, the leader needs to be open-minded about adjusting to the required style. Being aware is essential as is being agile.

    Thanks LaRae!

  7. Loved it, Terri! (can can totally relate to the flipcharts! When I lived in the USA they were a fixture in my trunk)

    It’s a hard balance that is often learned through lessons that leave a burn for new leaders – when to step in and when to stay out. The pendulum may swing wildly as leaders discover that what’s right in one situation is not always right in another…. or the same situation with different players.

    Thanks for opening the discussion and validating that there is no one right leadership style but leaders that can flex their style to meet the needs of their team and the moment are essential.

  8. Terri – I love the examples in this post. I can immediately picture a real life situation I’ve been in that resembles each. Sometimes I made wise decisions, sometimes I blew it, and sometimes I learned from hard lessons.

    Your post makes me think of Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model. It was an eye-opening training for me when I realized that while I am a great cheerleader, I was not naturally good at giving clear specific directions in the beginning of a new project.

    I still know my natural strengths and weaknesses – but I’ve learned to adjust my style for the needs of the people and the situation.

    Great reminder of one of the best leadership lessons I’ve ever learned!

  9. I sometimes think I should invest in the company that makes flipcharts!

    It is true that when it comes to leadership style, a leader needs to be agile enough to make adjustments to meet the needs of the team and the project involved. We can’t get so tied down on being one way or another, but understand our preferred style and be aware of our team member’s styles. To be successful leaders, self awareness is key.

    Thanks Alli!

  10. I actually was conducting a workshop on DISC leadership when I met the manager I spoke of in my post. The managers were learning all about their preferred styles and thinking about the styles of their team members.

    It is always eye opening to realize where our true and natural style lie and how others really are so different. Like you, I too am a cheerleader and details are not my thing.

    Thanks Chery!

  11. Terri,
    For me, it so depends on the circumstances, and the person. I lead very differently with each of my direct reports. Some need much more scaffolding than others. Although my preferred style is empowering and “hands-off” that’s not always the most helpful.

  12. It is so important that we flex our style of leadership to meet the styles of our direct reports. When we communicate and interact in a style that someone else can connect with, we empower them to be more successful.

    Knowing our natural “go-to” behaviors is essential when we need to pivot in a different way.

    Thanks Karin!

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