Great managers know how to coach, engage and motivate their teams. But the job isn't easy. The way we work is rapidly changing. Responsibilities are constantly shifting. Workers want to upgrade their skills.
As a managing vice president at Gartner, a global advisory firm, I oversee research and products for learning. To better understand what the best managers do to develop employees in today's busy work environment, we surveyed 5,000 managers from around the world in different functions.
The data revealed four main types of managers:
- Teacher managers develop their employees based on their own expertise and experience. Their mantra is: "I did it this way, and therefore you should, too." They typically advance in the organization not necessarily because they are the greatest managers, but because of their institutional knowledge.
- Always On managers constantly monitor and check in on their employees. They have good intentions and want to be the ones providing continuous coaching and feedback across a wide breadth of skills.
- Cheerleader managers have a more hands-off approach, giving positive feedback and putting employees in charge of their own development. They are approachable and supportive, but not as proactive as the other manager types when it comes to developing their employees' skills.
- Connector managers provide feedback in their area of expertise, while also connecting employees to others on the team or in the organization who are better suited at addressing specific needs.
Not all of the types proved to be effective. Teacher managers, for example, prefer to do things their way and are hesitant to experiment with new ideas and strategies. This can be problematic in a world where innovation and creativity is encouraged.
Cheerleaders are great for employees who thrive on motivation. However, their "learn by doing" approach can cause stress, reduced psychological safety and increased burnout in employees.
Our research team was surprised to find that the Always On approach isn't the most productive, either. That's because they often assume that they know what's best when, in many cases, they don't. As a result, they may steer employees towards the wrong path.
Connectors, who made up about 25% of the managers we surveyed, turned out to be the best at supporting their employees' career development, including efficiency and skills preparedness.
Their greatest strength is that they make three important connections for their employees:
- The manager-employee connection: Connectors ask the right questions and make an effort to really get to know their employees at a deeper level — such as their motivations, interests, goals and development areas in ways that other managers don't.
- The team connection: Connectors know that they don't have to be the sole source of coaching. So they try to create a more inclusive team environment where people feel respected and comfortable sharing their individual skills with one another.
- The organization connection: The highest-performing teams spend about half their time communicating outside of formal meeting settings. Connectors help their employees figure out what other leaders within the organization their employees can network with to receive the learning that they are not able to provide.
If you are one of the lucky few to have a Connector manager, you are likely to be more engaged and successful in your career.
But what should you do if your manager falls under one of the other three types? Here are some tips:
- Clarify feedback to understand what really matters. If you feel you are getting too much feedback, which is common with the Always On manager, turn their notes into a prioritized to-do list. Then, confirm that list with your manager to ensure you're focusing your energy in the right places.
- Share your career aspirations. Be direct with your manager about what areas and skills you want to develop. If there's an opportunity you'd like to pursue, don't be afraid to raise your hand.
- Build your own connections. Pinpoint where your manager's expertise lies and where they have blindspots, so you can seek feedback that plays to their strengths. Then leverage your own network to source alternative points of view and guidance.
- Seek projects with Connector managers. The best way to grow in your career is to amass interesting and diverse projects and roles. Find opportunities to work with Connectors, even if they aren't your direct manager.
Sari Wilde is a managing vice president at Gartner, a research and consulting firm. Her focus areas include leadership effectiveness, learning and development, employee experience, and DEI. She is also the co-author of "The Connector Manager: Why Some Leaders Build Exceptional Talent, and Others Don't."