“People don’t leave jobs. They leave their bosses.”
The title of this Forbes article, published in 2019, holds immense relevance in today’s highly volatile job market. While many employees were laid off during the pandemic, others willingly resigned for reasons beyond compensation. They wanted a happy, healthy workplace.
Today, employees seek jobs that give them a purpose and an opportunity to continuously learn, while offering flexibility and supporting their mental and physical health. Leaders in organisations have the ability to influence all of these elements in some manner.
Leading with values
When a leader evolves from a new hire to a manager, they go through multiple stages of learning, development, failures, and successes. In this journey, they learn various foundational values like empowerment, humility, commitment, respect, patience, and resilience, which they can pass on to their team members.
Today’s young workforce can quickly absorb these values to excel in their jobs. This is one reason why many companies prefer hiring young professionals since they can mould them as they begin to grow in their careers. Most importantly, leaders need to be able to understand who the employee really is, at work and beyond, in order to teach these values that shape the individual and not just the professional.
Striking the right balance
A leader must know when to lead, follow, or get out of the way. Juggling these roles skillfully is the hallmark of a great leader.
For instance, there are times when it is tempting for leaders to tell team members what to do, when a better approach would be to let them dive in and solve the problem on their own. A leader does this by having a quick conversation with their colleague to be sure that they’re heading in the right direction and stepping in only when required.
Leaders should also strive to strengthen their relationships with team members. Start with quick conversations or meetings and offer employees undivided attention. Gradually, this simple practice will become as natural as blinking or breathing, helping to create honest conversations. Not only will it establish clear communication, but it will also encourage respectful and inclusive behaviour, leading to the development of transparent and reliable relationships.
It is important for employees to experience challenges in their roles beyond some of their regular, day-to-day tasks. They will feel empowered and rewarded if they solve a problem or excel in a difficult task.
A leader is also responsible for understanding their team’s pain points. It is not just about being friendly and likable. For instance, on top of being a team’s guiding light, a leader must also show genuine interest in understanding the unique problems and situations each team member faces. The more you care about their feelings and make them feel heard, the more they will be motivated to go the extra mile.
In today’s corporate world, our personal lives tend to intertwine with our professional responsibilities. As a result, employees want empathy and support from their leaders. Employees want somebody who can, at the very least, lend an ear. Leaders would do well to structure informal time with employees in the form of personalized one-on-one meetings or catching up over coffee or lunch.
Empathetic leaders should be on the lookout for signs of burnout in employees before they exacerbate and lead to productivity issues. According to a LinkedIn survey, a growing number of employees seek bosses who demonstrate empathy and compassion in the workplace.
If you can identify and address burnout before it’s too late, your employees will find it easier to work, share, experiment, and win with you. This not only impacts overall business growth but also enables employees to work comfortably and stay with the company for a longer period. Ninety percent of Gen Z employees are more likely to stay with leaders who demonstrate empathy, as highlighted in a study by team building company, TeamBonding.
Employee satisfaction primarily boils down to being open and honest. Transparency depends a lot on sharing the right information with the right person at the right time, eventually leading to better and more informed decision-making.
Transparency also means openly sharing your failures with the team. Colleagues respect a leader who is fallible, owning mistakes when something goes wrong. This also enables them to learn from your mistakes and understand “what not to do” to excel in their career journey.
Keep your employees motivated
Outlining the big picture is a fundamental step toward building motivation. It means you must focus on helping your team members understand their roles and how their goals and objectives are aligned with the organisation’s vision. A leader should also ensure that employees know the value of their work and how it makes a profound impact on productivity and profitability. Ideally, each employee’s purpose should be aligned with that of the company.
Being a leader doesn’t mean you have reached a certain level where there is no room for improvement. In fact, you should constantly focus on improving yourself and getting better with every passing day. After all, learning is a lifelong process and those who follow this approach will always be wiser and less vulnerable to human errors.
Leaders should also applaud and celebrate their team’s successes, including the little ones. Once employees achieve a milestone, leaders must raise the bar a tad higher as it will push employees to work harder and deliver better.
In a fast-evolving era driven by Millennial and Gen Z workers who have different expectations about the workplace than previous generations, leaders must look beyond compensation to retain employees. According to an analysis by MIT, the biggest reason behind the ‘Great Resignation’ has been toxic cultures of practices like micromanagement, unchecked workplace bullying, and a lack of inclusivity.
Managers need to lead differently in this new paradigm by openly addressing issues. They must reshape, to some extent, the traditional management approach which may have served them well in the past. Now is the time to put employees at the centre by creating a work culture that revolves around fairness, where they feel heard, valued, and respected.
Employees feel great knowing that the work they do is meaningful and has a positive impact on the organisation. Leaders need to be torchbearers, harnessing the collective potential of the team and paving the way so that both individuals and the organisation win in today’s world.
(The author is Mr. Madhav Nair, Senior Vice President of Engineering at ZoomInfo and the views expressed in this article are his own)