The Influence of Upbringing on Management Style Preferences

Are our management style preferences be influenced by our upbringing?

I have always been fascinated by the different management styles that exist within the workplace. It is intriguing to see how individuals with similar positions can have such different approaches to leading their teams. It’s well documented that upbringing can influence management style but, over time, I have started to wonder if one’s management style preferences can also be greatly influenced by upbringing.

The Influence of Upbringing on Management Style Preferences

In writing this blog I was able to find ample articles and research on the subject of how one’s upbringing can influence management style very little on how it can affect how one prefers to be managed – there’s not much out there specific to this. Could it be that these early experiences and interactions form the foundation of our management style preferences? A quick poll of the office and discussions with colleagues confirmed this may be the case. So I approached one of our consultants, Kath Reid, a chartered psychologist, who pointed me in the right direction in terms of research that has been done that can be aligned with this subject, such as parenting styles and attachment theory.

The role of upbringing in shaping management style preferences

Our upbringing plays a significant role in shaping our values, beliefs, and behaviours in adult life. From a young age, we observe and learn from our parents, guardians, and other influential figures in our lives. Diana Baumrind, a developmental psychologist and researchers, Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin, identified four different styles of parenting:

  1. Permissive (taking on a friendship role)
  2. Authoritative (nurturing, supportive and often in tune with their children’s needs)
  3. Neglectful (uninvolved parenting)
  4. Authoritarian (a rigid parenting style using stern discipline)

What does this mean for an individual?  Below are the different styles with how this might affect those raised in those environments and what this could mean in terms of how someone would prefer to be managed:

  1. Permissive Parents that adopt this style set very few rules or boundaries and if they do, they very rarely uphold those rules.  They are lenient, warm and indulging. Children bought up in this type of household often develop poor emotional control, like to get their own way, give up easily and often engage in antisocial behaviour. It’s natural to assume that those bought up in a permissive home may favour a manager that lets them get on with things, with no strict rules or structure imposed upon them.
  1. Authoritative The authoritative parenting style is generally assumed to the best parenting style it can help children to develop self-confidence, handle responsibility, troubleshoot, and have confidence in their own decision making. It follows that those growing up under this style may prefer a manager that takes a firm but fair approach to management. Will delegate and give them responsibilities beyond their job description and gets them involved in decision making.
  1. Neglectful/uninvolved As the name suggests, neglectful/uninvolved parents don’t show an interest in their children and their children are not priorities. They will often be going through trauma themselves and are unable to be present. The effect of this style of parenting is serious and can lead to children that are unable to form close relationships, become depressed, develop hostile behaviour and will cut themselves from others. It’s difficult to imagine the type of manager an adult that has had this experience may require, but possibly one that is supportive but will let them have their independence.
  1. Authoritarian The authoritarian parents will often have high expectations of their children. They will have rules in place that are expected to be adhered to with a ‘because I said so’ mentality.  Often not giving the child a voice.  Children that experience this type of parenting will normally have trouble making decisions for themselves, may have trouble establishing right from wrong, and have low self-esteem. As adults they may prefer a manager that is a strong leader who will make decisions for them and will also give them praise when earned.

Attachment theory

John Bowlby’s attachment theory proposes that the emotional and social development of a child is strongly shaped by their relationship with their parents. He believed that it characterised human experience “from the cradle to the grave” and can impact our lives outside of family or romantic relationships. Hazan and Shaver (1987) applied John Bowlby’s theory to social dynamics in the workplace and found that Bowlby’s attachment dynamics were present in relationships between managers and colleagues.

Bowlby identified four attachment types: secure, anxious/preoccupied, avoidant/dismissive and disorganised.

  1. Secure attachment Secure attachment is seen as a positive trait and employees with this type of attachment have been declared by the Attachment Project as ‘dream employees’ that often become managers themselves.
  1. Anxious/preoccupied attachment The anxious/preoccupied type tends to worry extensively about relationships. They tend to be insecure and have low self-esteem.  In terms of management, they may struggle with negative feedback so it’s important to frame it sensitively. They may have negative expectations of the leader, require regular feedback and clear instructions.
  1. Avoidant/dismissive attachment The avoidant/dismissive type do not want or need to rely on others: they want to be in control. They will be independent with a negative view of management, they probably won’t like being micromanaged so would appreciate being left to get on with it. They can be relied upon in a crisis as they are fast to react.
  1. Disorganised attachment The disorganised type is a mix between the other two insecure attachment styles. Individuals with this pattern tend to switch between anxious and avoidant behaviours. Therefore, managing a disorganised type will be a mix of 2 and 3 above.

One would presume that there is a link between the parenting style and attachment type and this seems to be the case. According to Parenting for Brain, “in general, attachment patterns are transgenerational. Securely attached parents are more likely to raise secure children. Insecure parents tend to parent in a way that leaves their children with insecure attachments… although it’s not set in stone and can change over time.” Hence, for example, authoritative parenting is more likely result in secure attachment as an adult, whereas neglectful parenting is more likely to lead to anxious or avoidant attachment.

Strategies for bridging the gap between different management style preferences

Assuming that we’re willing to accept that parenting styles and attachment can have an impact on how a person prefers to be managed, understanding people at an individual level then becomes a priority. For that, a culture needs to be created where people can bring their true selves to work and not be afraid to exhibit what they themselves might deem to be negative character traits. This lends itself to the ‘coaching’ style of leadership which aims to build strong relationships and addresses the unique needs of each individual team member.

In a diverse workplace, it is inevitable that managers will encounter team members with different management style preferences. To bridge the gap and foster effective collaboration, it is essential to implement strategies that accommodate and respect these differences.

  1. Foster open communication: Encourage open dialogue and create a safe space for team members to express their management style preferences and concerns. This allows for better understanding and appreciation of different approaches.
  2. Promote flexibility: Foster a culture that values flexibility and adaptability. This allows managers and team members to experiment with different management styles and find a common ground that works for everyone.
  3. Provide training and development: Offer training and development opportunities that focus on enhancing managers’ leadership and communication skills. This equips them with the tools to effectively navigate and manage diverse management style preferences within their teams.
  4. Encourage peer learning: Facilitate opportunities for managers to learn from each other and share their experiences. This promotes an exchange of ideas and best practices, fostering a collaborative approach to managing diverse teams.

Implementing these strategies, can bridge the gap between different management style preferences and create a harmonious work environment that values diversity and promotes employee engagement.

The NeuroLeadership Institute has an assessment tool that can be used to understand how a manager can meet the managees needs (and vice versa). Whilst the Attachment Project has a test to help you find out what an individual’s attachment style is.

Adopting the appropriate management style will help the team/organisation achieve goals, empower people and create better job satisfaction and aid staff retention – as the old saying goes, ‘people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers.’

Conclusion: Embracing diversity in management styles for enhanced employee engagement

In conclusion, the evidence suggests that our upbringing plays a significant role in shaping our management style preferences. Whilst there is very little research done on this subject, just by looking at research and studies undertaken in the fields of parenting styles and attachment types – and the long-lasting effects these can have, it stands to reason that these will have an effect on preferred management styles. By understanding this, managers can adapt their approach, bridge the gap between different management style preferences, and create a more inclusive and engaging work environment.

360 feedback surveys are an excellent tool for gaining valuable insights into how individuals perceive their management experience. They provide managers with a deeper understanding of people’s preferences in terms of being managed. If you’re curious to discover if your organisation is effectively meeting the expectations of its employees, feel free to contact us at The Survey Initiative.

How Your Attachment Style Impacts You at Work [Pros & Cons] (

Attachment Styles in the Workplace | Hogan Assessments

Attachment at (not to) work: Applying attachment theory to explain individual behavior in organizations. (

The role of line managers in employee career management: an attachment theory perspective: The International Journal of Human Resource Management: Vol 26, No 9 (