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6 Ways To Keep Good Leaders From Leaving Your Team

Turnover is a problem at any level–but with managers it’s especially concerning. Here’s how to recognize and stop it.

6 Ways To Keep Good Leaders From Leaving Your Team
[Photo: Flickr user Dan Foy]

You’ve been in a job where it felt like no one wanted you to think or contribute, where you were just supposed to get your work done, haven’t you? You were wired to make a difference, to change the world, to influence the people around you–but you were stuck in a position where you were assembling widgets? You had ideas to contribute and solutions to propose, but no one ever asked.

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Now many of you are beyond that. You are in a job where you are making decisions and creating a culture for others. You have the ability to perpetuate the worker-as-widget-builder world or to find a different way where leaders are discovered and raw talent is developed.

You do that by considering the “loose/tight principle.” Whatever your profession, if you lead a team or influence an entire organization, you have to decide what you are going to hold on to loosely and what you are going to hold on to tightly.

For example, you likely want to hold on to your mission tightly. For most organizations, the mission or purpose is not up for debate. When you define your mission and communicate it over and over in many ways, it gives clarity to your direction. You likely also have some major values and beliefs that are tightly held.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things in the loose category. In my career, I’ve always loved bringing great leaders on a team and then finding ways to free them up to lead. They can make decisions, spend money, set direction, and develop initiatives–all without a huge approval process or a bunch of hoops to jump through to get permission.

In many organizations, problems emerge like this:

  • Bad hiring decisions are made
  • Executive leaders jump in and start running things
  • The organization starts to get bottlenecked, and people get frustrated
  • High-capacity leaders begin to leave the organization
  • Executives are too busy running things to properly interview potential replacements
  • More bad hiring decisions are made
  • And the cycle continues…

If you want to develop a healthy culture, decide the non-negotiables, bring great young professionals on your team, then get out of the way and watch them do great things.

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But even when you hire great people, there is another cycle that can take you down–and it also relates to running things with too heavy a hand. Perhaps you hire a great person, and you take the time to ramp her up on values, vision, and the DNA of the organization. (So far, so good.) But then you give that leader responsibility without authority. (If this has happened to you, you know it sucks.)

You let her make all the micro-decisions, but hang on to the big decisions such as setting direction, approving expenditures, or making hiring decisions for her area. Then this amazing leader gets fed up and leaves your team. You might categorize her as disloyal or not a great fit, but the truth might be that she is wired as a leader and a developer. And you won’t let her do either! So now you have to start over looking for another great leader. You spend all your time looking for new staff and restating the values because the really good leaders won’t stay if you won’t let them lead.

Authority is the ability to make decisions without asking someone else’s permission. So often we give a leader responsibility without also giving him the authority. Their job is clear, but have to get approval from a senior leader, or the person who says yes or no about expenses. Perhaps the only thing that frustrates a true leader more than not being able to make decisions, is to make decisions that are later reversed.

How To Free Your Leaders

If you want a great culture in which leaders are excited, then do six simple things.

  1. Train them so their blood pulses with the mission, vision, and values of the organization.

  2. Set them up to succeed. Lend them your credibility by telling everyone he or she is an amazing leader, and they have your full confidence.

  3. Give them the authority to make decisions including spending money, hiring and firing staff, and setting direction for their areas of responsibility.

  4. Get the heck out of the way and let them lead.

  5. Connect with them continually for evaluation, values review, and rare course corrections. Be available as a sounding board to process decisions. A good leader doesn’t need you to tell them the answer. Rather, they need you to ask questions and help them process the right course of action.

  6. Celebrate their wins publicly, and reward them with greater responsibility as appropriate.

This is easy to put on a list, but much harder to practice. Find a leader you know who is great at empowering and releasing other leaders–and watch him or her closely. Within that leader you will likely find someone who is great at developing talent.

Tim Stevens is an executive search consultant at Vanderbloemen Search Group and the author of Fairness is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace (Thomas Nelson, January 6, 2015). You can interact with Tim on his blog at www.LeadingSmart.com or on Twitter @timastevens.

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