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I’m sure you have seen the headlines about quiet quitting, loud quitting and company struggles with employee retention. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become very clear that many employees are unhappy in their current jobs, but what is the main culprit here? While this is a complex issue with many potential contributing pieces, there is one clear factor fueling a large portion of employee dissatisfaction, and it is poor leadership.
Throughout my career, I have seen the ill effects of bad bosses from many different angles. During my time practicing in healthcare, I saw the physical, mental and emotional strain caused by poor leadership and its impact on patients, colleagues and even myself. I remember when I started my first “real” job after college. My boss at the time wanted me to check in with him before leaving for the day. Typically, around 6:00 pm, when all my work was completed, I would wait by his door with my stomach growling hoping to get the thumbs up to make the 60-minute or more commute home. My boss would see me standing there and would typically make a motion like he was busy, and I needed to wait (if he acknowledged me at all). If I was lucky, it would be about 15-20 minutes before I got the hand wave that he was ready to talk, but most of the time I would be there waiting for much, much longer.
On the flip side, I have also been extremely fortunate to experience what empowering and supportive leadership looks like. During my keynote talks and corporate trainings, I have witnessed solution-focused dialogue around employee pain points and struggles. I have seen leaders actively asking for feedback from their employees, looking for ways to implement positive change to support their overall well-being.
For better or worse, the leaders in your organization can make or break employee happiness, well-being and company culture. I recently took a poll on LinkedIn where I asked the question, “If you are not completely fulfilled at your job, what do you think is the main reason?” Unsurprisingly, 56% of respondents chose poor leadership or their boss. When people don’t feel valued or fulfilled in their careers, their performance suffers, and the organization as a whole is negatively impacted.
According to Gallup’s State of the Workplace 2023 report, almost 6 out of 10 employees were categorized as quiet quitting, and 51% of surveyed employed workers reported watching for or seeking out a new job.
So, what do employees really want from their leadership team? While exploring this question, I ran another poll on LinkedIn asking, “What made the best boss you ever had such a great boss?” An overwhelming 77% of respondents reported that it was their support and advocacy. At the end of the day, people want a boss that is in their corner. They want to work for a leader they can trust; a leader who has their back. Now, developing that trust is not always easy. It takes intention, self-awareness, time and effort.
That said, here are three steps to help you move in the direction of becoming a better leader:
1. Optimize how you communicate
How effective do you think you are at communicating? How does your communication style fluctuate based on your emotions? How are you perceived by others? A key part of being an excellent communicator is building self-awareness. When you start to recognize your tendencies and habitual responses to different situations, you can begin to see where there is room for improvement.
Do you shut down when you get upset? Do you micromanage when you get stressed? Is there regular, clear and open dialogue between you and your team about expectations, workload, timelines and potential speed bumps? What does your team really think about your communication style? Getting feedback in this arena and working towards being an optimal communicator will help create an environment where everyone feels seen, heard, valued and supported.
Related: 5 Steps to Communicate Like a Boss
2. Build connection
How well do you know the members of your team? As a leader, it is important to have regular check-ins with your group via different formats including, email, phone, virtual and in-person. You should also be having informal conversations in which you are able to get to know them as a person.
Learn about your team members’ goals and aspirations. What are their strengths? Is there a time of day when they work the best? What are their pain points with their job? What kind of help and support could they benefit from? Discovering these things will help you more effectively lead each individual employee based on their unique situation. You won’t be able to provide support and potential solutions for problems if you don’t even know they exist.
3. Be receptive to feedback
Too often leaders are the ones providing the feedback, but they are not always getting honest feedback from their teams and groups. Leaders need to provide constructive feedback, mentorship and support, but they also need to be actively seeking out feedback from their team. You may be biased when it comes to your leadership style, or you may not be aware that some of your messaging is being misinterpreted, so getting feedback is essential.
Now, no one is going to want to share feedback about their boss if they are afraid that it will negatively impact their job security or career advancement. As a leader, you are responsible for creating a safe environment and a feedback loop for employees to share suggestions, concerns and pain points.
When it comes down to it, no one really wants to be a bad leader. They may just be lacking the tools, skills or self-awareness needed to create a space where employees can thrive. Wherever you are at in your leadership journey, remember that there is always room for growth. By investing in leadership development, you will be planting the seeds for an empowering company culture with happier employees who will want to work with you for years to come.