4 Defining Features of Top Leaders

We collected survey responses from more than 1,700 employed professionals across the U.S. in October 2022 and again in January 2023 to gauge job satisfaction levels and understand what retains talent at their current companies, compiling our findings into a report with concrete retention and employee engagement strategiesWhat we found was surprising – job satisfaction levels were higher than anticipated, and yet, 85% of talent surveyed reported they would still consider leaving their job in the next six months.

Retention continues to be a major focus for many employers; however, many don’t want to accept what the biggest driver of voluntary attrition may be: middle managers. As the saying goes, people don’t quit companies, they quit managers. In fact, 82% of workers reported they would consider leaving their current job because of their relationship with their manager.  

While some managers are process leaders, working as subject matter experts and individual contributors, others are leaders of people, and their primary role is to help guide and support their team to be successful. When these leaders struggle to connect with their team, they risk losing top talent.  

So, what makes a strong leader of people?  


They Lead with High Emotional Intelligence (EQ) 

Strong emotional intelligence (EQ) is about recognizing employees’ emotions and understanding how to react and communicate differently to each employee. Everyone responds to things differently. Strong people managers with high EQ know when an employee who is going through something challenging needs direct feedback, or when they need to take a break and recharge.  

Another key aspect to achieving EQ is knowing what the employee has going on personally. Work and life shouldn’t be separated – it’s a combination that makes up who they are. Remembering special dates or important things happening in their personal lives is one way to help improve a relationship and show support. Consider adding their kids’ birthdays or their anniversary dates to a calendar to help remember. When leaders show they care, employees will do the same.  


They Turn Mistakes into Learning Opportunities  

Everyone makes mistakes, and when leaders identify that with the team and help employees learn lessons through failures, they will gain employee buy-in. In fact, according to a study reported by CNBC, more than half of employees reported feeling their manager ‘had their back’ was a priority while considering whether or not to stay with their current employer.  

Employees need to know they are trusted, and one (honest) mistake doesn’t equate to termination.  Take it a step further and discuss what was learned to the entire team during meeting so everyone can understand and avoid making that same mistake in the future.  


They Give Real Feedback 

For the past six years, learning and developmental opportunities have been among the top three elements job seekers are seeking from employers according to LaSalle Network data. Employees need – and want – feedback from leaders in order to grow in their roles, so it is important leaders don’t manage out of fear of losing talent and hold back feedback. Employees are craving that development.  

When employees are unsure of their performance, they are more likely to be less engaged or report higher stress levels. Being open and direct with employees lets them know exactly how to improve and what they need to focus on. Leaders should create a team culture where feedback – both good and constructive – is normal and expected. 


They Ask for Feedback 

Feedback should go both ways, and top managers know this and are always asking for ways to be better. They end every 1:1 with asking direct reports, “What can I help you with?” or “What can I be doing differently to better support you?”  

Other questions leaders can ask employees to better understand what they need to best support and retain them, include: 

  • In what environment do you best work? Do you have any ideas for how the company/I can better set you up for success at work?  
  • How would you rank the following in terms of what motivates you at work, from most motivating to least (note, there are no right or wrong answers): Compensation, Recognition, Being Challenged, Title, Learning New Skills, Impactful Work, Other (add in as needed)?  
  • What do you see as your strengths at work? What are areas you’d like to improve?  


Strong leadership requires an understanding of direct reports and adaptation to team needs as they change. Stagnant leadership and an inability to connect can lead employees to feel under-supported and lead them to look for opportunities elsewhere.  


If you’re looking to add more top talent to your team, let us help. Get connected with us here 


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