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  • Nicola Blackmore

Management Hats – using different styles & skills for different situations

We are often asked about the “Secret Sauce” to becoming a great manager. 


Like all good recipes, there is a collection of ingredients needed to make a great manager... a series of concepts, skills, behaviours and mindsets.   We believe that one of those concepts is becoming confident with the differing ‘Management Hats’ and in this article, our Senior Partner, Nicola Blackmore, is going to dive deeper into this concept, sharing more about what they are, when to use them and how to develop your use of ‘hats’.  


What are the management hats? 


There are five core Management Hats. Each hat is important and plays a role in your management toolkit. There are usually some hats that feel more comfortable and familiar and others that might make us feel uneasy... but the skill is in being able to select the right hat for the right situation and use them all authentically and seamlessly. 

 They are: 

  • Trainer 

  • Mentor 

  • Coach 

  • Consultant 

  • Counsellor 

When you wear each hat, you are using a specific set of skills that suit the situation (and/or the team member) you are dealing with.   


When you wear the Trainer hat you are teaching new skills, knowledge and techniques, usually to someone who is unskilled in a task. 


When you wear the Mentor hat you are sharing your experience and wisdom, providing advice and guidance.   


When you wear the Coach hat you are enabling individuals to find their own solutions to challenges using a series of questions and (usually) a specific framework.  You are purposefully allowing others to problem solve and create their path and are not leading the conversation. 


When you wear the Consultant hat you are giving technical solutions on areas of your expertise.  You are problem solving and issuing specific instructions about implementation. 


When you wear the Counsellor hat you are providing a safe and comfortable space for people to explore problems they are facing (often emotional or personal). You are listening, supporting and allowing space to process. (Note, in this context we are not expecting you to operate in place of a trained, professional counselling service, we are suggesting that, as a manager, you can utilise the skills of non-judgemental listening, presence and support to help a team member who may be struggling with an issue.)  


Why is having a variety of hats important?


It is really important to have access to all the hats because each one provides a different set of skills to address a situation.   Another way to describe it is using a DIY toolbox. Most DIY enthusiasts will have a variety of tools in their toolbox.    Why?  Because each job requires a different tool. You don’t (or at least you shouldn’t!) use a hammer for everything and it can do more damage to the situation using the wrong tool.    It is the same with the hats. Each hat has its own uses and solves its own challenges and for the best outcomes you flex between the hats you wear. 


How do you know when to use each hat?  

The best way to know which hat to use is to quickly analyse the situation you are facing and decide what is needed from you to arrive at the best outcome. You could look at the experience of the individual involved, the seriousness of the situation, the desired outcome, the words being used by others involved... all of this gives you the clues you need to make the choice.    For example, if you have a new starter in your team coming to you with an operational issue that they have no idea how to solve, you may pick the Trainer hat to show them how to do it or the Consultant hat to give them clear directions on how to solve the problem they are facing. 


Or, if one of your most experienced team members come to you with an operational issue and you are sure they have dealt with this type of issue before, you may select the Coach hat to enable them to find their own plan and boost their confidence. 


What if a manager uses the wrong hat? 


This can easily happen and at first you may not even notice!   


Often, we select the wrong hat because we use our favourite hat for all occasions and don’t make adjustments for the situation! For example, we might use the Consultant hat all the time because that gives us the most control and oversight. However, overuse of the Consultant hat means that individuals will never learn how to do things by themselves or solve their own problems and they can become dependent on you. 


We may also just read the situation wrong and pick the wrong hat. In these situations, agility is key. Be aware and notice if the situation is progressing in the way you would like and if not, change hats. For example, if an underconfident (but fully trained and capable) team member comes to you for help in making an operational decision, you might naturally opt for the Coaching hat. As the conversation continues, if they are not finding their own solution maybe you need to switch hats to get to the outcome. Maybe the Mentor hat would help to share some ideas or experience to get them started or the Counsellor hat to explore what is going on for them that is impacting their confidence. 


How do managers develop their use of hats? 


The best way to develop your use of the hats is to use them all consciously.   


Increase your awareness of the situations you face and spend some time analysing what is needed, rather than reacting on autopilot or out of habit. Ask yourself “what do they need?”, rather than “what do I want to use?” and that should help a lot. 


Remember to challenge yourself to reach for the hats that don’t always get an outing, the more you wear a hat and practise the skills it needs, the more comfortable you will feel. 


Navigating the world of management requires a versatile toolkit of styles and skills, each tailored to suit the diverse situations a manager might encounter.   

We love ‘Management Hats’ as a concept and we have an abundance of tools we share with our participants during our Management Development Programmes. Intrigued to find out how we could support your managers on their journey? Get in touch today!  Article written by Senior Partner, Nicola Blackmore. April 2024.


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