In our last post, we explored accountability and the role it plays in truly taking action to improve turnover in our organizations. In this post, we will unpack how our leaders impact turnover and can be the solution to improve it. Accountability is the first place to start understanding the root cause. However, the leaders are frequently the biggest lever we can pull that affect the daily experience for our teams. So, I am curious, how are the leaders in your organization affecting the engagement?

The Leader

We know from the last post that accountability is crucial for leaders, not HR, to be the drivers of team engagement. This is critical for true cultural change to occur and for teams to trust cultural improvements are not just a “diet,” but a “lifestyle change.” No one person can own this alone, but the leader can own this for their span of control and make an incredible impact on the experience of those around them. And that is one of the most important lessons for leaders to truly appreciate: they have a profound impact over their own lives, the lives of their direct reports, the people that report to their direct team, their teams’ families, and the list goes on.

This is a big responsibility. But, if leaders choose to value not only the results they get but also how they are achieved, it does not make additional workload. A lot of leaders can achieve great results, and we often recognize and promote those who do. But, if we had a higher bar for our leaders that required that how they get their results also be outstanding, our teams would be engaged, productive, and effective beyond what we can even imagine.

Valuing the “How”

Think for a minute about the possibility (read: probability) that engagement, and therefore the reduction of turnover, relates not to the results, but in the path towards achieving the results. How does that change your view on how you lead your team? Here are some ways to consider placing value on the path you take, not just the end result.

  • Do a self-check and assess yourself on the “how”: Do you communicate for, recognize and reward not only the results, but how they were achieved? Or instead do you tend to say, “I don’t care how, just get it done”?
  • Use data to identify leaders that are doing the “how” right: Consistent or improved engagement survey results, low turnover, performance rating discussions, and exit interviews are great data sources to point towards great leaders, and those who don’t get it. (Warning, this is not the only black and white information to consider, but it does tell you where to look)
  • Listen to your teams to understand the “how” and “why” that they value: Our teams generally don’t value the results, they value the accomplishment they get from them. They also want meaningful work (the “how”) and the chance to make an impact (the “why).
  • Uncover hidden value in introvert leaders: Many times, leaders and organizations value those who speak up the most because these leaders are most visible. Do not overlook quiet strength from introverted leaders, as they can be some of the most introspective and emotionally intelligent people on your teams and amazing drivers of team engagement.


Case Study: A Tale of Two Leaders

Here is a comparison of two different leaders from similar environments that illustrates the outcomes of leadership style.

Meet Linda. Linda drives for results, and doesn’t care how the results are achieved. She frequently states the goals for the team, and leaves it up to them to figure out how to get it done. However, her team lacks focus, communication, and feel misunderstood when the goals don’t take into account their workload or values. Meetings are not well directed or planned, and milestones towards the goals are not genuinely recognized. The team often hits their goals, but the engagement of the team sinks lower and lower as the expectation to get results grows. 100% of her team turns over in a period of one year.

Meet Bill. Bill is a very driven leader who is results-oriented, but leads the team in a manner that supports the journey. He believes that achieving goals will come as a result of managing along the way. He communicates not just about the team’s goals, but about the total company. He makes sure that team meetings and one-on-one meetings always happen, and agendas are communicated in advance so people know the direction and come prepared. The meetings are spent listening and recognizing accomplishments.  The goals are met, but the team also reports that they feel positively about communication, recognition, and how their work affects the rest of the organization, in their work unit. Bill loses only one person in two years.

Thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to actions. If leaders want different actions out of their teams, they can focus on the thoughts and feelings (taps into the “how” and “why”) instead of going straight to action. You already have the data to support who your best and least effective leaders are in your organization, and it can be found in the form of engagement survey data, turnover trends, exit interviews, performance review feedback, 360-degree surveys, and simply the energy or feel of their team.

In the final installment of this three-part blog series, Demystifying Turnover, we will dig into the last of the big engagement factors or what I call “The Big Three”: communication, recognition, and rewarding and meaningful work. Find out more about how these three factors are likely the ones your team cares about the most.

About the author:

Katie Rasoul is the Chief Awesome Officer for Team Awesome, a leadership coaching and culture consulting firm. Find out more by visiting or sign up for our mailing list for awesomeness coming straight to your inbox. Follow Team Awesome on Facebook and Twitter.

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