Whether you are in the office or at a BBQ, when you talk to people about their job, one topic that will nearly always come up is the relationship they have with their manager. Occasionally people will talk of a great manager whom they like and respect and with whom they work well. Others will give you a laundry list of things that “drive them nuts” about their manager and will express a great deal of frustration. Sound familiar?

The employee-manager relationship is often the most significant one we have at work, and the one that can make the most difference in our ability to succeed or fail. It can also determine how much we like our job, how hard we work and our general state of happiness at work. In fact, studies show that around 70% of an employee’s commitment is based on the interaction they have with their manager.

When I talk to people who are thinking of leaving their job or who are simply not feeling very motivated about their job, the root cause is most often the relationship they have with their manager. As leaders, we invest so much time and money in attracting and recruiting talent but we rarely invest as much effort in working out how to motivate, retain and engage our people. So this should be no surprise!

Employees ‘select’ their manager and employer as much as we ‘select’ them, a fact that is often overlooked. Some managers would say “well, they should just feel grateful to have a job in this climate!” And, “everyone is replaceable”. However, the hard truth is that, regardless of how slow the job market may be, a disengaged and unhappy employee will inevitably find a way to move on!

Another sad fact is that the really great talent are often the least tolerant of a poor employee-manager relationship and are more proactive in seeking out greener pastures and more likely to be attracted by other opportunities. The “War for Talent” is far from over….losing great talent is not only a shame, but a direct reflection on our ability to lead.

So the question is …..What do we need to do to engage and retain our top talent? Whilst there are some basic considerations like salary, benefits, working environment and culture, these are often the things that a manager has limited ability to control, and they will only keep employees happy to a point.

In this series I will write about some tips for managers who truly want to engage their talent. You will see that most of these ideas do not cost lots of money and require only a small amount of effort. They are simple strategies and techniques that will differentiate you as a leader and in turn help you to be more successful.

So what makes a good leader great?

Great leaders are inclusive. They value, respect and give their attention to every member of their team – not just their top talent or favourite team members.

Great leaders know their employees – really well! They take time to get to know them as individuals, they are great listeners, provide continuous feedback and will coach their employees. They know what matters the most to every individual, what their career aspirations are, and they will tailor their approach based on individual needs.

Great leaders are connected to their employees. Their employees understand the business strategy and goals and know what their role is in order to help the organisation be successful. They are great communicators and have more than just an ‘open door policy’. In fact, they would spend more time out with their employees than sitting in an office. They know exactly what is going on in their team and address any dynamics that are impacting the team’s performance.

Great leaders are great coaches. Coaching your employees involves more than just completing an annual performance appraisal. It’s about understanding what your employees need now and in the future. It’s the ability to have those ‘courageous conversations’ and helping your employees to be the absolute best they can be.

Great leaders challenge their employees. They understand what motivates each individual and that it may be different to what motivates others and themselves. They know what their employees value and are proactive in seeking out this information. They empower and encourage their employees and ‘sponsor’ them to help them achieve their career goals.

And finally, great leaders recognise their employees in a way that makes them feel truly appreciated. They are creative and praise their employees in a personal way and do not make assumptions about how their employees like to be recognised. They know that they don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to make their employees feel like they are doing a good job and that their contributions are valued.

There are some organisations who really do ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to engaging their employees. They know that the work their employees do is critical to their growth and their ultimate success. As Jeffrey R. Immelt, former CEO of GE put it “We value leaders who truly know and understand their people…leaders who can connect with their teams. In return, our employees will feel that their leaders value them. They will be passionate about helping our customers win and our business grow.”

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