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The simple reason why people leave managers, not companies.

When you treat people like you would like to be treated, you will experience a return. It’s as simple as that. 

There are thousands of books, millions of definitions, and billions of opinions about the essence of leadership.

One of those definitions is that you’re not a leader without followers — simple. But some followers are not followers because they have chosen you to lead them. 

They follow you because you are their boss or the boss of their boss. You have a title and pay their salary. Unfortunately, a title and paycheck don’t make you a leader.

What makes you a leader is when people follow you because you help them grow as individuals. 

That’s when you’re making a difference. When people feel you have their best interest in mind. That best interest is that you care about their development.

Let me make one exception. Some people just want to do their job. They’re happy where they are, good at what they do, and don’t want to go anywhere. They have no desire to lead other people. They are the so-called key professionals.

Maybe you’re a key professional. But being one doesn’t mean you don’t want to be recognized for what you do. A good leader knows this. They don’t chase you to move up the ladder if you don’t want to, but they do make sure you know they value your work.

Whatever your ambition, you want your leader to be caring and inspiring. 

Leaders who care, treat people well, compensate fairly, and invest in your growth. That’s when people tend to stay longer — not forever; that model has expired, but longer. That’s not what’s happening in leadership land. People more often leave companies because of their direct manager than for any other reason. 

If you show you don’t care, you become a cold-hearted leader. If you do care, you become a caring leader.

There’s this quote by Theodore Roosevelt that goes like this:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Theodore Roosevelt

It’s less about your brain; it’s more about your heart. You can try to impress people with your expertise, but they will only follow you if they feel you care about them. Many new leaders make this mistake, and some experienced leaders, unfortunately, never learn. 

A popular management term these days is asking leaders to “Stretch & Care” their people. Provide your people with targets and tasks that stretch them to higher performance. But find a way to balance that with a caring leadership style.

“Stretch and Care” did not emerge because the stretch side was underdeveloped. Wherever I go and meet clients, I hear people are (over)stretched. 

The part that is missing is the caring side. 

This is mainly because the people supposed to show their caring side are also overstretched. In many cases, it goes all the way up to the CEO. It is unsurprising that more CEOs resign and cite ‘mental health’ as a reason, despite their generous compensation packages. Most probably, that makes resigning easier. 

Shareholders, especially Private Equity firms, expect faster returns on their investments and higher profitability margins, squeezing every drop out of the lemon. Logically, but unfortunately, they’re not known for their caring side. Thus, as a leader in such an environment, you must stand firm and invest time into developing a caring culture.

However, the ‘return on caring’ calculation is far more complex than the return on investment calculation.

How can you prove upfront that investing in feedback and self-awareness, developing caring leaders, creating high-performing teams, and being intentional about culture will drive business performance?

As a matter of fact, there’s no finance calculation for ‘return on caring.’

When you ask companies that have invested in connecting the ‘culture’ dots as described above, you will hear stories about lower employee turnover, higher employee engagement, lower numbers for absence and burnout, and, as well, better financial performance.

When you treat people like you would like to be treated, you will experience a return. It’s as simple as that. 

Some people become mechanical robots driven by revenues, EBITDA, free cash flow, etc., as soon as they have a title in front of their names, mainly when it contains the word ‘Officer.’ Officers receive higher bonuses, substantial long-term incentive plans, and retention bonuses when expected to leave. In some cases, like in sports, signing bonuses are also provided.

Loyalty can be bought. And in return, the lemons get squeezed harder.

To summarize the journey to Effective Leadership, I’ve addressed the importance of creating a thinking environment, becoming an independent thinker, being coachable, and being a caring leader.

That leaves two open ends to complete the journey. First, collect feedback that provides a solid baseline from which to work. Then, consider the most critical skill ANY leader needs to become an effective leader who knows how to “stretch and care.”

The feedback part is straightforward if you like simple and robust methods.

I’ve done this exercise with many clients, and it always works. I ask them to have a feedback dialogue and focus on two questions:

… What makes you great in my eyes is …
… What blocks your greatness in my eyes is …

You can easily do this exercise with your team, provided they feel safe enough to share their perspectives. Psychological safety is an essential prerequisite. You invest a few minutes of your time and share the answers to the questions above.

If you are willing to do this with a large enough sample of people, you will soon start hearing similarities in the responses. You will most likely get confirmation about your superpower(s), but you will also hear back about some of your blind spots. 

Then, it’s up to you what you do with that feedback.

Assuming goodwill, the key point is that we all try to lead with the best intentions. Those intentions often fail to result in the impact we expected. We need feedback to align our intentions with our impact. Existing gaps are usually the result of poor development, skill training, or lack of self-awareness with significant blind spots.

When you’re coachable, asking for feedback and learning from the feedback is a huge asset.

That is also the essence of leadership.

Your turn: How high is your return on caring?

Next, I will address the most important skill ANY leader needs to master to become an effective leader who knows how to ‘Stretch & Care.”

Erikjan

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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