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Ten Ways to Be an Unleavable Leader

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

In most companies, just 30 out of 100 employees are engaged with their work. Because only 35 out of 100 managers love their jobs, guess who’s responsible for the disengagement? At least 50 percent of Americans have left jobs to escape their managers. Bad leaders suck the life out of companies.

My first team of rockstar group leaders from Anchorage, Bellevue, Portland, and Corvallis (1997)

For much of my career I managed a large, multi-state publications group for a large environmental firm. Project managers were not required to use us, so we provided top-notch client service, used documented and scalable processes, and created a supportive, highly functioning team of engaged professionals. Outstanding leadership and communication were essential, so I built a group of excellent group leaders throughout the region.

In my 30+ years in the workplace, I’ve worked for phenomenal leaders and a handful of bad ones. I’ve found that great—or poor—leadership starts at the top and trickles down throughout the organization. No matter your leadership level, you have the power to create engagement and loyalty with your employees if you follow these ten steps.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communicate authentically, honestly, and as transparently as you can. Spend face time with your staff, and if you’re not in the same office, hold regular conference or video calls with your team. Whatever you do, don’t make those calls or meetings boring, though…make them fun, interesting, and worth everyone’s time. Give your employees consistent, meaningful, and specific feedback, and let them know what’s going on in the company or on your team. If you keep employees up to speed, they’re more likely to trust and support you.

Celebrating a retirement in Corvallis

2. Be interested

Get to know your employees personally. Ask them about their family and hobbies, and what they like to do in their spare time. Be authentic, though! If you are asking them about their outside life just to check a box, they’ll see right through it. If you look for opportunities to have fun and relax with your team, you will have more chances to get to know them as whole people. Go to a wine and painting class…bowling…on a ropes course…or just out to lunch. Create supportive teams. Get out of the office and learn what floats their boats.

3. Use your power for good

Meet with each of your employees one on one regularly to learn their strengths, development areas, and career goals. Help them become their best selves and follow their passions, and get them the training and tools they need to pursue their goals. And most important, use your leadership platform to help them get ahead. One of my greatest accomplishments was to support an employee in her efforts to reinvent herself in a sustainability role…and years later, she became my boss when I had reinvented myself too. Provide your staff opportunities to present before executives. Do everything you can to increase their exposure. Share your influence.

With Brandy Wilson, from technical writer/editor to global sustainability director!

4. Be a role model

Whatever you do, do not lose your cool. If you’re feeling stressed out or in a bad mood, do not let it show and of course, do not berate your direct reports. Trust me…your words will be misdirected and off-base and will have lasting repercussions. (I was once the target of such a phone call.) Use your words to help, not hinder. Think of your ideal employee—whether that be a peer, subordinate, or executive—and model your behavior on theirs. My husband and I would often take this tack while facing parenting challenges. We thought of our son’s second-grade teacher, who we admired fiercely for her ability to stay calm in the midst of turmoil, and we’d say to ourselves, “What would Mrs. Schaeffer do?” Emulate the person you admire. Be professional and respectful.

5. Give credit where credit’s due

Always, always give your employees full credit and appreciation. The best leaders hire people who are smarter than they are or who have skills in different areas. They do not view their employees as threats…rather, they realize that when their employees rise, their reputations rise too. Look for ways to praise your employees for their outstanding work, publicly and especially to executives. Whatever you do, NEVER take credit for your employees’ work. You will not be able to live that mistake down.

With one of the best bosses I ever had, Mike Payne, who let me fly and be free

6. Let them fly and be free!

The best leaders I’ve had gave me a huge amount of independence and autonomy, but checked in with me to give me affirmation and encouragement. They asked if they could provide support so I could complete my responsibilities. If they gave me a task or project to complete, they did not take it over or let it sit on their desk for weeks on end. They did not suffer from “analysis paralysis.” They trusted my experience and my instincts, and they gave me the tools and support I needed to finish the job.

7. Engage them in decisions

As a follow-on to #6, engage your employees in critical decisions and trust their input. Delegate everything you can so your employees will gain work experience and opportunities to make a difference. Listen more than you talk, and ask them for their feedback as much as you can. Give them power to make things better, and allow them to persuade you to change your mind. You will gain their trust if they can challenge you and feel empowered to be part of the change.

8.Follow the no-asshole and no-slacker rule

Assholes and slackers abound in the workplace. You’ll gain loyal employees if you manage employee performance effectively. Assholes wreak havoc on employee engagement and morale, and nothing is worse than an asshole in the workplace unchecked. It’s your job as a leader to protect your team and not allow people to run roughshod over them. Be an advocate for them. That goes for managing slacker employees too. Most important, never be an asshole or a slacker yourself!

One of the fantastic leaders on my team, Elisa Blommer

9. Give each person a career path

Everyone wants to grow. When you meet with your employees one on one, talk to them about their longer-term goals and where they’d like to advance in the organization. Make a succession plan for yourself and talk to your employees about it. Give them as many raises and bonuses as you can afford. If you’re not going to talk to your employees about their career path progression, who will? Money talks, but career opportunities are even better.

Celebrating in Bellevue, Washington

10. Appreciate your employees and celebrate their successes

This can’t be said enough. Create and nurture an environment where everyone feels truly appreciated. This starts at the top and permeates through every level of leadership. Throughout the year, I sent birthday cards and service anniversary cards to my staff, telling them specifically what I appreciated about them and thanking them for their service. I wrote emails to show my appreciation after they’d completed a large project or proposal. I loved to throw parties when they reached milestones in their careers or won leadership awards.

What other attributes would you add? Have you worked for a leader people don’t want to leave? What was their superpower?

Could your team use a leadership boost? Are you trying to become a stronger, unleavable leader? Contact me for a free 30-minute consultation. Let's talk about how we can boost your employee engagement and strengthen your leadership muscles!

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