Strong Leadership Leverages Talent

There’s an old adage in business that says “People join companies, and quit bosses.”
In my own experience, this has proven true, and recent research supports the claim.
In a study of 1000 American executives (cited in Forbes magazine) positive psychologist Michelle McQuaid found that (only) “35 percent of Americans are happy at their job. And, 65 percent say a better boss would make them happy. Only 35 percent say a pay raise will do the same thing. A 2009 study published by the Harvard Business Review suggested, “…the majority of people say they trust a stranger more than they trust their boss.””
If we accept the premise that success in today’s hyper-competitive business environment demands the best talent, and that a majority of that talent dislikes and mistrusts their boss, the need for exceptional leadership that attracts and retains star talent becomes painfully obvious.
The brand recognition, product/service reputation, or culture of a company may initially grab the interest of the best talent, but it’s the attitude, style and behavior of their direct superior that determines the quality and pace of their growth, level of motivation and fulfillment, and possibly even their decision to stick around. Every employee’s daily reality is directly influenced by the leadership skills of their boss.
The unfortunate thing is that often a poor relationship between boss and subordinate is not intentional. Hectic pace, market pressures, and financial stress, can easily suck a manager into the vortex of minutiae that disconnects them from direct reports. It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to connect more deeply with employees or show interest in their development; sometimes it’s simply too much distraction and too little time.
Regardless of intent, the primary responsibility for keeping top talent within the fold still lies with leadership (including line managers and supervisors), which means they must take a strategic approach to attracting, challenging, engaging and inspiring employees. The most effective way for leaders to go about this is to create an environment or culture that is supportive, challenging and inclusive.
Here are a few steps leaders can take to create that environment:
1) Start with yourself: make sure you’re clear about whom you want on the team, what you expect of them, what talents each brings, and how to best leverage them.
2) Clarify corporate identity and values for your people, and make sure your actions demonstrate both. Regularly (daily, weekly) schedule specific actions that reinforce those values to employees
3) Create opportunities for employees to develop (as Dan Pink suggests) autonomy, mastery and purpose in their work. Hold firm on accountability, outcomes and deadlines, but let the ‘how’ evolve from their own ideas. Monitor, don’t micromanage.
4) Spend brief time in every meeting connecting the daily tasks to the larger picture. Remind people why everyone comes to work there; what they’re trying to accomplish in the long term. Help employees to feel part of something bigger than their own roles.
5) Recognize and reward their behaviour that supports and ‘lives’ the organization’s values; give timely corrective feedback when it doesn’t.
6) Coach people to think through problems and challenges for themselves, as opposed to instantly giving them the answer.
Employees will often gladly endure adverse circumstances such as stress, tight deadlines, and frustrating changes, as long as the relationship with their direct boss is strong. Trust and the clear communication of company identity, mission and values lets employees feel an integral part of a cause larger than them, and engender a loyalty to the boss as well as to the company. In this way, strong leadership leverages talent.

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