Now that we’re on the other side of the Great Resignation, one of the questions I get a lot from leaders is, “How do we keep our top talent?”
Simon Sinek says that we need to stop thinking about it in terms of the Great Resignation and think about it in terms of a “Great Correction.” It was a shot to all of our systems, but you know what? A lot of those systems needed to be shocked. Those changes were long overdue.
When we talk about what makes a great leader in this new era, it’s really that they not only do their job well, but they’re invested in helping other people do their jobs well. We’ve focused for so long on the operations aspect of business and leadership that we’ve sometimes ignored something really important—that human beings are the ones making the business run.
But how do you make that mental shift and become the kind of leader who truly supports and inspires your team? How do you become a truly great leader?
Here are my top seven tips…
1. Bring your heart to work.
Being a leader isn’t just about your skill set. Your team needs you for who you are—the way you care for people, the way you uplift people, the way you give them tools to flourish, the way you create safe spaces for people to find solutions. When you bring your whole heart to work, it means you genuinely care not just about the work you’re doing but the people you’re doing it with.
When you lead with your whole heart, you support your people the same way you’d support your family and friends. Don’t turn off that part of who you are. You would ask your friends if they needed help during a tough time, wouldn't you? You would check in with your family to see how they’re doing. If the people you love have something to celebrate, you’re all over it, right? It’s what makes you special to the people in your close circle.
Why wouldn’t you want to share that part of yourself with your team?
I think so many leaders truly want to operate this way, but we just don't know how. We’re afraid that if we open that door, they may dump their feelings on us. We can't fix their problems. Or we feel ill-equipped to help with other people’s emotional stuff.
But if you take a minute to flip it and imagine yourself on the other side of that conversation, would you really dump all of your emotions on your boss? No way.
(C'mon, when you really think about it, it's difficult opening up to the people we're closest to, let alone someone we work with!)
And as leaders, we’re problem solvers. So we worry that if we open the door, we’ll have to solve whatever personal problem the person across the desk brings to us.
You don't have to have a solution to someone's problems and you don't have to assume the role of their therapist.
All you need to do is let them know that they are seen and supported—this alone brings you closer together and strengthens the relationship.
On the rarest occasion when someone does unload their emotions on you, it’s okay for you to simply say, “I’m sorry to hear that you are going through that. If there’s anything I can do for you as it pertains to work as you work through this, please know that I am here for you.”
You don’t have to "fix" their personal challenges; you just have to tell them that you're open to supporting them through this time. When you do, you give them the space to bring you the solutions they truly need.
2. Look for the good.
As a leader, it's normal to try and get ahead of any possible threats or problems that can be foreseen. And trust me, I know that’s important. But don’t do it at the risk of losing sight of all of the good.
When we’re too focused on looking for potential problems, all we can see are potential problems. Keep an eye out for solutions to those challenges, but don’t lead from that space.
Living in that mindset won’t give you the momentum you need to take your team forward.
Think about it this way: When you talk about or think about problems all the time, how does that actually feel in your spirit? Pause and really think about that for a second.
I don’t think you need to think about it for long before you recognize that it doesn’t feel good.
As leaders, we need to do better at amplifying the good because that’s what fuels people during hard times. When we look for the good, it becomes easier to find.
When we pour into people and celebrate all of the good, their cups will be full when the tough times come around. So if your team got a project out on time, take a moment to celebrate it before you start talking about the next deadline. If your team went above and beyond for a customer or a client, shine some light on their amazing efforts instead of just slapping them with the next to-do list.
And looking for the good actually makes you a better problem solver, my friend. When you look for the good, you learn your team’s strengths, which gives you a wider view of how to solve potential problems. You can figure out how to approach challenges by leveraging what they do well, which will make the resolutions feel like true wins.
3. Celebrate your people.
Right now companies are scrambling to figure out how to retain top talent. You know what the biggest threat is?
People feel taken for granted. People are fleeing toxic cultures that have tolerated disrespect, abuse, exclusion, and cut-throat behavior and looking for healthier, joyful, more humane environments.
We work really freakin’ hard. And not just when someone is watching us, not just during normal business hours. We’re on even when we’re at home. Sometimes when we’re having dinner with our families, on our morning walk with the dog, or when we’re folding laundry at the end of the day.
Even those of us who are trying to practice mindfulness and are learning to be more present in the moment—still find ourselves contemplating something that's 'work-related' during our downtime.
So if we’re investing that much time and energy into bringing our best to every project at work, we all hope that our leaders can take a few minutes to celebrate that hard work (seen and unseen).
If you want to attract and retain talent, then you need to show that you value them.
Celebrating your team doesn’t always mean big grand gestures. Sure, maybe a Starbucks gift card now and then as a treat. But honestly, simply acknowledging them, calling them out in front of their peers if they’ve done a fantastic job, can go so far.
We all crave that validation, that feeling that our hard work is seen and appreciated, and it takes so little to do it really well.
4. Build rest into your operations.
I heard Viola Davis speaking not long ago, and she was talking about how hard many of us are working to break generational curses and build generational wealth. She said that the problem, though, is that we believe the only way to do that is by grinding hard and being on all the time. You may be creating wealth for your children, but you’re also creating a psychological legacy that: people who want to be truly successful don’t have the right to rest.
I don’t think any of us want to pass that belief down to the next generation.
In order to be our best, we need rest. We would never drive a car all the way to empty and then expect it to go any further, right? So why do we do that to our bodies and our brains?
At some point you’re going to run out of energy and will be forced to rest. It’s called burnout.
But you don’t have to get to that point. Because when you build rest into how you operate, you will experience sustainable success.
This could be as big as having mental health days at work, and it could be as small as making sure you have five minutes between your meetings to grab a healthy snack or take a walk outside or just take a few deep breaths. If you want to develop any kind of momentum, there has to be energy behind it.
When you do, you set an example for your team. You create a culture where everyone has permission to build rest into their own operations in the way that works best for them. Then as a collective, you will accelerate all of your efforts.
By the way, if you’re reading things and thinking, “Sure, Karen, easier said than done…” I hear you. But it’s not as hard as you think. If you need some ideas for how to get started, I highly recommend reading this great book: Peak Performance.
5. Offer flexibility.
Life is uncertain. Things change in an instant and our families need us—a kid has a school event, a parent has a health crisis, a pipe bursts in our kitchen—and we want to know that we’ll be able to show up how we need to.
When people think about top employers, they’re not worrying about who has the best fitness club on site or the swankiest employee lounge. What really makes a workplace attractive is flexibility. Because the last thing you need to be thinking about in the midst of a hard time is whether or not your job is in jeopardy.
And also, let’s not project what we need to be productive onto other people. Just because working from home or from the office or from a coffee shop or from the sidelines of your kid’s soccer game is what works best for you, that doesn’t mean it’s what works for other people.
Let’s throw out rigid schedules too, while we’re at it. Some of us work best early in the morning; some of us work best late at night. Some of us want to push through everything during the week and have our weekends free; others want to have time to volunteer at our kids’ school in exchange for catching up on Saturday afternoons.
The employers who are going to be left behind are the ones that make unrealistic demands on their people.
There are lots of different wants to flex. You know what’s the best way to determine what your people need? Ask them. And then be open to what they tell you.
Good leaders know how to be thoughtful about measuring output. Because if your team is doing a great job, does it really matter how, when, and where they’re getting it done?
6. Normalize feedback.
If you want to be a great leader, it's important to accept that not everything is going to be perfect all the time. If you can recognize that, it puts you on the path toward growth and opens you up to facing those areas that need attention.
But the problem is we haven’t normalized feedback, so we feel shame when we get it, and we feel anxious about giving it. To change that, we have to remain open to giving and receiving positive and problematic feedback.
So much of our feedback comes at annual reviews, and that’s counterproductive in any relationship or partnership. What if you only sat down with your spouse once a year and told them all the things they’d done wrong over the past 12 months? Ridiculous, right?
Would you want someone storing up all of their complaints about you and then springing them on you once a year? Or would you rather know in the moment so that you can learn from it and grow forward?
And whether you’re giving positive feedback—telling someone what they’re doing well—or problematic feedback—telling someone where you’ve noticed a potential problem—it needs to be specific and given with compassion.
There’s nothing helpful about saying to one of your team members, “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but you’ve been dropping the ball lately. I need you to start getting your stuff turned in on time.”
The more specific details you can give, the less emotion is involved in the conversation and the more you can really focus on the situation at hand.
Here’s an example of how you could start a more productive conversation: “Hey, the last three months your end-of-the month report has been three or four days late. I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but we need the reports on the 30th because we send them off to clients on the fourth day. When the reports come in late, it backs up the process.”
That’s the beginning of a conversation focused on a specific problem, which is much more likely to result in a collaborative solution. You might find out that there’s a challenge you didn’t even know was happening. Maybe their reports are always three days late because another team member or department isn’t getting them information in time. Or maybe the last few months, the database has updated on Monday mornings, which is putting them behind.
When you come into the conversation with specific, compassionate feedback, you open space to truly understand what’s keeping your team from performing at its best.
And if it turns out there’s something you’re doing that’s causing the disruption? That’s your chance to model how to receive feedback in an open, growth-minded way. You should be getting feedback as often as you’re giving it.
7. Be human.
I mean, really, all of those earlier tips really boil down to this, right?
We are beautifully complex beings, and most of our intentions are good. It’s just the chaos and noise of this world can also wear on us. Expectations from other people can weigh us down. Things outside of our control can make us feel hopeless.
But at the core of our being, we all hope to be someone who others care about, respect, and trust. We all want that kind of connection with one another.
When you think about what it takes to create those relationships, it’s not a list of responsibilities or a degree that you hold or how many sales you made last quarter.
In fact, none of that translates to the person, or the leader, you are. What makes you a true leader are the values that you uphold, the character that you show, the legacy that you’re leaving.
And all of that comes from you being 100% Human.
Be who you are, who you’ve always intended to be, and do not let the craziness of this world dim your light. We need more people to shine bright and help others find their way.
If you are a leader, you’re in the position to do exactly that. You can help people grow. You can expand their horizons. You can support them by sharing your own journey of becoming better.
Through all of this, remember that you may be a business leader, but you’re really a leader of people first. And when you invest the energy in becoming your best self (the whole human version of you) you simultaneously inspire others to grow into their best, too.
Adam Grant said in a recent conversation,
"The most meaningful way to succeed is to help other people succeed."
I absolutely agree with this, do you?