5 ways great managers make their people stay

People join companies, but they leave managers. Too often, it takes an exit interview to reveal that the root cause of top talent departing is their boss. And with manager-employee relationships becoming increasingly remote, expectations of what it takes to be a ‘great boss’ have shifted.

Gartner estimates that in more than 70% of manager-employee relationships, either the manager or the employee will be working remotely at least some of the time in 2021.[1] This means managers have less visibility of the day-to-day challenges of a role, while employees need more emotional support than ever.

Employee experience has extended to encompass a balance between work, life and purpose – not just the work itself. And with remote work fuelling the risk of burnout, employees are reconsidering their options. For example, in Singapore, 56% of employed respondents told a 2021 survey they expect to find a new job this year.[2]

Talented employees are not just moving for higher wages – they are seeking meaningful work, more defined career paths or more flexibility. And a lot of this comes down to how they are being managed.

So what do great managers do differently? They are inclusive leaders, who ensure their teams experience a welcoming, caring and open workplace. They bring their full selves to work and embrace the different perspectives of others. In doing so, they empower their team to do their best work.

Unfortunately, these types of leaders are hard to find. Korn Ferry research indicates less than 10% of leaders have the traits and competencies of inclusive leaders.

Being an inclusive leader is not simply embracing diversity. It takes empathy – understanding how an employee feels, not just what they are doing. And it requires resilience, to thrive in the midst of constant change.

These are all things that can be developed. Based on Korn Ferry’s assessment of over 3 million leaders, we see great managers focus on continually improving their abilities in five core areas.

1. Flexibility and empathy

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing people because every individual has different needs. For example, people have a range of working from home situations – if a team member has to manage their child’s study-from-home schedule when schools are closed, can you adjust the rhythm and expectations of internal team meetings, or check in with them in a way that suits them?

Younger employees and those new to the organisation may find social isolation more challenging, without the usual onboarding, networking or training opportunities.[3] This also limits their access to leaders – so, as their manager consider more informal conversations or one-on-one's to help them build the strong relationships that are the foundation of their career.

2. Emotional resilience

As a manager your tone, presence and choice of words have a significant impact on how others feel, especially over video calls, or when team members are feeling anxious or overwhelmed. Inclusive leaders maintain a positive focus and are composed in the face of adversity. We recently worked with a manager who became easily frustrated when others didn’t comply with his point of view. By helping him identify his underlying need for control, he reframed his approach and was able to resolve high turnover issues within his team.

Think about the different communication styles and preferences within your team, and ways to connect with them at a more emotional level.

3. Curiosity

This is as simple as asking more open-ended questions and actively listening. Hold back the urge to speak first in a meeting. Instead, show an interest in how others think or feel, and understand what’s going on beneath the surface by resisting snap judgements.

Too often, meetings become an endless cycle of giving information or updates. When you use them as opportunities to really connect, it can be an ‘aha’ moment – you might see things from a different angle and even learn something new.

4. Self-assurance

Show your people they can rely on you by making time for their development. We can become drained by the daily marathon of back-to-back video calls, so look for different platforms for engagement and new learning opportunities. This can go a long way in sustaining enthusiasm.

Self-assurance also means sustaining your own sense of optimism – instead of getting bogged down in the grind, help your team overcome challenges together.

5. Authenticity

Great leaders are not afraid of being themselves and showing their own vulnerability. In leading by example, you can encourage others to do the same. It’s OK to say “I don’t know” if the path forward is unclear, as long as you keep communication open with your team. If you are honest and show you will focus on the bigger picture together, you can navigate your team through short-term uncertainty.

Cultivating these five behaviours within yourself as a manager will also help your employees feel like their work has meaning and purpose. It can help you build trust – because you show you care about their wellbeing. By focusing conversations on personal and professional goals, rather than project details, you’ll strengthen team collaboration and ensure everyone is included – whether they are working remotely or in person.

Being an inclusive leader is the key to successfully managing teams in an increasingly hybrid workplace. And it will be critical if you don’t want to lose your top performers to a ‘better boss’.

To learn more about the disciplines of inclusive leaders, our white paper.


[1] What Does It Mean to Be a Manager Today? Harvard Business Review, April 15 2021