By John Hall
CREDIT: Getty Images
To encourage your employees’ development, you may think you have to be their teacher or cheerleader. Turns out what they really need is a matchmaker.
Entrepreneurs face a lot of challenges as their companies grow. In the early days of Influence & Co., my co-founder and I were all over the place: We were prospecting clients, calling publications, building our marketing plan, and handling accounting all at the same time. But as our company grew, we realized that we couldn’t wear all those hats forever and be successful. It would kill us and kill our company.
Many founders face the same challenge I did. When you’ve devoted so much time and energy to building something, it’s hard to give up control to anyone else. But as it turns out, giving up that control is exactly what needs to happen.
A recent survey by Gartner asked 7,300 professionals to evaluate their bosses. From the responses and subsequent interviews, Gartner was able to create four manager profiles:
· Teachers, who use their own experience to guide team members and give lots of advice
· Always-on managers, who make employee development their main priority with structure, constant follow-up, and feedback
· Cheerleaders, who encourage individuals to take projects into their own hands and act as a support
· Connectors, who, rather than trying to answer a question themselves or encouraging team members to seek it out alone, connect employees to the experts who can best help them
Each of these types has its pros and cons, sure, but the connectors stood well above the rest. In fact, direct reports of connectors were three times as likely to be high performers as those who worked under a different type of manager.
This is because connectors focus on the quality of time spent on employee development, not the quantity of time. Connectors send their employees directly to the people who have built their thought leadership and become subject matter experts, and as a result, their employees get the guidance they need and perform better.
For anyone who’s used to doing a lot of things him- or herself, learning to be a connector is not easy. In the long run, though, it means more growth and more productive, successful teams. Become a better boss and improve the way you lead your teams by following these four principles:
1. Understand your team’s short- and long-term goals.
Have you ever heard the phrase “It’s the journey, not the destination”? Well, connectors don’t just help their team members complete projects. They’re dedicated to the professional growth of each person on the team as he or she continues with the company.
As the boss, you know what projects the members of your team are working on and what they’re working toward in the short term — but you should also know the long-term goals that each team member has.
What skills do your employees want to learn? What would help them do their jobs better and prepare for future career goals? Connect those employees with people you know can help them on their journey. Not only will this give them the confidence (and the means) to chase those goals, but they’ll also be more likely to do so within your company. If you don’t afford employees these learning opportunities, there’s a good chance they’ll seek them elsewhere.
2. Know what you know and what you don’t.
You’re the boss for a reason, but being a boss doesn’t mean you know everything. It’s important to recognize that. Be honest about what you do and do not know. If employees come to you with a question that you’re not sure how to answer, don’t guess or even say you’ll find the answer and get back to them.
Save yourself (and your team members) time and just refer them to someone you know can be more helpful. It might make you feel like you’re being lazy or hurt your ego a little bit, but your employees and your company will be better served by it.
3. Hire people who are better than you.
If there’s not someone in the company who knows the answer better than you, hire someone who does. It’s inevitable that as your company grows larger and larger, you’ll know less and less about each and every single part of it. That’s OK.
Rather than trying to become an expert in everything, bring in people who can stay on top of the various parts of it very well. You can still be in the loop, but let them be the experts. Surround yourself with good people who know what they’re doing, let them do what they do best, and connect your direct reports to them when it makes sense.
4. Get out of the way.
After a while, connectors will start to see time freeing up on their calendars. They might get fewer questions or feel less involved in the day-to-day, but this is a good thing. When your connections are working, and the company is thriving, resist the urge to hang on to control by needlessly inserting yourself into conversations and issues where your expertise isn’t needed. Let the well-oiled machine you’ve built run on its own, and devote yourself instead to the big-picture stuff. (You know, the stuff that you’re an expert in.)
Following these four tips will enable you to become a better connector, and in turn, a better boss. Rather than trying to solve every problem on your own, become a connector. Help your team members find the resources they need to be successful themselves, and you’ll build an exponentially more successful company.
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