My client keeps losing people because he is the perfect boss and leader.

As a natural leader, he started his company in late 2010: his most promising hires all leave his company within 3-5 years, sometimes sooner. Even this month his best engineer quit. He expected it, but it leaves him having to look for someone new, without a guarantee this person will be up for the job.

After having saved him out of a few fires over the past 18 months, she’s accepted a position as the Director of Software Engineering with a great company.

So, this again: sorting through resumes, searching for that perfect candidate.

He was annoyed the first time this happened. After spending 5 years turning a new college grad into someone that could do any job in the building, he quit and moved to work for a big consulting company. He was pissed, but apparently hid it well because the former employee still talks to him. On his way out the door he thanked him profusely for everything he’d done for him (Dude, he was doing it for him! The nerve of some people.).

So how does he alienate his best people? He challenges them, gets them to tell me their dreams, send them out into the world, provide them with feedback, and get them to believe that they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.

A leader assigns the workforce challenging work.

It’s rare to find someone that’s familiar with the companie’s domain and tools, so he gives people about 6 months to get their legs under them. After that, it’s fair game. He’s a firm believer in stretch goals and assignments — giving people work that makes them do some research, think, and put in a little more energy now and then.

Just as runners and weightlifters hit a plateau in their training, we all experience the same thing professionally if we don’t hit a pain point now and then.

Challenging work builds confidence and makes you better at what you do.

He walks around the office asking people what they really want to do with their lives.

If it’s not aligned with what they are currently doing he asks them why not? Most of the time he gets a blank stare, sometimes they have good reasons, occasionally someone really gets into it and it turns into a long conversation.

If he can help them move toward that ultimate goal he does. Training, new experiences, new assignments, help them negotiate time away from the office, etc.

We get one life. No one should look backward as they approach the end and wish they had taken more risks.

I’ve seen it too many times, and it makes me cry if I think about it too long.

He sends them to training and networking events.

Doing the same old thing gets boring and that leads to a productivity decline. So after they hit a milestone, or are just in a lull, he’ll ask people to sign up for some training.

As a natural leader, he likes for people to cross train in other things: programmers take PM classes, PMs take DevOps classes, everyone get involved in an event that requires them to speak in front of the room. I’ve also found that it’s great for people to take some training in something completely unrelated to what they are working on.

Learn or experience something completely new a few times a year.

Business travel doesn’t have to be a chore either. Encourage your people to experience the city, try the local specialties, and see something unique.

Provide feedback on a regular basis, even if it’s uncomfortable.

We all want good news, but that’s not possible. Have the good conversations, but don’t hesitate when it comes to providing feedback that isn’t comfortable, just try to make a positive out of it.

I’ve made bad hiring decisions, and always know it’s on me. If I screwed up and brought in a bad fit, I feel like it’s my responsibility to find what they are good at and make it work. Occasionally this simply can’t happen for whatever reason and we have to let someone go, but there are never any surprises.

Let your people know when they are doing a good job, but also have enough respect for them to let them know when you expect more. A great leader inspires.

It seems counterintuitive, but people typically appreciate it when you point out something they can use to make a course correction. Better to know early on than to get down the road when performance becomes an issue.

Remember that what you permit you promote.

Help them believe in themselves.

I found a person crying at their desk. “What’s going on?” I asked, fearing something had happened at home that upset them. No, it was something at work. Her direct supervisor had eviscerated her in front of a room full of people over some editorial errors in a PowerPoint presentation.

We all have stuff going on all the time. Work is just work. It comes and goes. And unless it’s a life or death situation, work just isn’t all that important. It’s what we do to make money to buy food and pay rent. Get over it.

I’ve found that people that attack others at work are weak, ineffective, and trying to cover for their inadequacies. I try to get those situations out whenever I can because it will 100% ruin your team.

Lift your people up, make them believe in themselves, become their mentor, and block for them when they pick up the ball and start running.

People are my thing. I love seeing the change in someone when I get inside their head and the sparks start flying.

The Takeaway

An unexpected benefit of applying these lessons as a leader over the past few years is that I’ve built a network of successful professionals that look to me as someone they appreciate and trust.

Help your people become what they want to be. Use your resources to turn them into your best employee and someone any organization would want to hire. The following techniques have worked for me every time:

  • Assign challenging tasks that will take them out of their comfort zone.
  • Help them think about long term goals, because the horizon gets here faster than anyone realizes.
  • Get them out of the office now and then by sending them on the road, for either training or business meetings.
  • Provide direct and honest feedback at appropriate times.
  • Be their #1 Fan and make them think they can accomplish anything.

As a leader, do you want to help your people reach their best potential? We coach them to analyze their situations, no fluff, we aim for results: beyoe.be

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