How to Assess Your Leadership on the Standards–Connection Spectrum
When you interview as many employees as we have in the Undercover Millennial program, you get a lot of insight about what creates a workplace people love. But the super interesting thing happens when we analyze that insight and compare it to a leader’s results. When we do that, two factors become so consistently linked with success that you can actually use them as a framework for assessing managerial performance.
And what are those factors? Standards and Connection.
Now, standards are your expectations for your employees’ behavior and performance, and connection is the level of empathy, recognition, time, and advocacy you offer them. In the conversations we’ve had with employees, we’ve heard consistent descriptions of four specific types of management—and each can be placed on a spectrum of these two elements. And not only that, each of those four styles can actually be linked to specific behaviors among those leaders’ employees.
So, which type of Manager are you?
The Removed Manager
The Buddy Manager
The Controlled Manager
The Mentor Manager
THE REMOVED MANAGER
Low Standards, Low Connection
First let’s look at the Removed Manager. This person leads with low standards, and low connection.
They’re completely removed from their organization and from the people they lead—we’ve seen this separation manifest emotionally, and even physically. They’re hard to find! Maybe they’re in their office, maybe in the back room—maybe they’re not even there. And when you do find them, it can seem like they’re just ticking boxes, and that they don’t really care.
OUTCOME - Disengagement
If hearing this feels uncomfortable, this might be you! And that means you’re probably struggling to connect with and lead your people. Maybe you’re feeling burned out—or maybe you’re even having difficulty connecting with your own boss. But whatever the underlying reason, that disengagement you feel is likely showing up in your people as well.
THE BUDDY MANAGER
Low Standards, High Connection
You get the Buddy Manager—hooray, a buddy, a friend! Yeah, sounds fun—everybody likes a buddy, and, hey, wouldn’t it be great to have a job where you can get away with anything. But hold on: what’s that going to do to your sense of respect for your employer? And how likely are you to feel like you’re building a career that has real meaning? While employees with a Buddy Manager might feel cared for, that’s not actually a good thing if they also feel a lack of real leadership.
If approval and friendship mean more to you than guiding or developing, you might recognize yourself here. You probably bend over backwards to make your team happy in the moment, but you fail to balance that with consistent expectations. And the outcome? Entitlement, complacency, and a lack of professional growth.
OUTCOME – Entitlement
An even bigger risk with Buddy Management is treating some employees differently, making exceptions and granting favors because you like them, or, worse, because you want them to like you. Soon you have some people seeing how far they can stretch your authority, and others feeling resentful, ignored, or shut out.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a great relationship with your employees, because you absolutely should! But if friendship becomes more important than what’s best for your employee’s development and performance, your company is going nowhere¬—and the same goes for your employee.
But here’s the tricky balance—the flipside to the Buddy Manager is the Controlling Manager. You’ll recognize yourself here if you have a “my way or the highway” style, with little collaboration and a whole lot of consequences.
THE CONTROLLING MANAGER
High Standards, Low Connection
Do you find that you’re always writing your people up or dressing them down? If you do, you might think you’re just pushing for higher performance, but the real result can be just as bad as with the Buddy Manager. Only in this case it takes the form of rebellion, bitterness, and a different kind of rule breaking—we’ve seen Controlling Management lead to less productivity, more theft, and even intentional mistakes made as a way to express defiance.
OUTCOME – Rebellion
And that doesn’t even begin to include the negative results of what doesn’t happen under this style of management: and that’s collaboration, innovation, and the sense of connection your customers get when they enter a business where people love where they work.
Ah, but now we reach the place where these two elements come together! This is leadership that combines high levels of standards with high levels of connection. This is Mentor Management, and it has without fail reaped the best performance results across all the workplaces we’ve researched.
THE MENTOR MANAGER
High Standards, High Connection
Employees who work for a Mentor Manager feel loyalty, show respect, and engage better with their work. You’re operating as a Mentor Manager when you provide your employees with the standards and expectations they need to feel secure in their job, and at the same time you’re spending time with them—creating meaningful moments and building trust simply by getting to know them. And the result? Respect, and loyalty.
OUTCOME – Respect & Loyalty
Now here’s the big question: for each of those managers, how much of their style do you see in yourself? If you see similarities, does that make you feel good, or uncomfortable? Who could you emulate to help yourself increase the level of standards and connection you are offering your people?
What could you do to increase the levels of both empathy and expectations in your workplace? Your title might make you a boss, but it’s your people who decide if you’re a mentor. And that’s where you want to operate as a leader.