There is no question that the demands on leaders have never been more sophisticated and complex than they are today. Whether it’s managing the supply chain, using a new suite of workplace analytics, dealing with automation, quality control, or employee performance, the span of talents needed to be a successful manager and leader is increasing. Management at all levels needs new and better skills to cope with these growing challenges.

The State of Work

Employment and workplace culture has shifted dramatically over the past several decades. The Industrial Revolution kicked off the Age of Compliance – a time when employees were just grateful to have a job to support their families and managers could easily lead with a “my way or the highway” approach.

Now, we live in the Age of Choice, an era classified by two main factors. One, competing dynamics: there’s a growing need for highly skilled talent at the same time the rate of qualified workers is in rapid decline. This means there are fewer highly skilled people available to fill new and existing jobs in a growing economy.

Two, the changing generations: Millennials are now the largest segment of the professional workforce. This reality means there is a new and powerful mindset at work. Rather than searching for job security alone, this generation, and the one that follows it, seeks opportunities where they can make a difference in the world. They want to see the impact of their personal contributions – and they are not afraid to change jobs until they find that.

What will it take to attract and retain top talent in the Age of Choice? A compelling, safe, and relational work environment built intentionally by leaders at every level of an enterprise. If these conditions are not present, employees will suffer decreased team engagement and performance, and will eventually quit to find a better opportunity elsewhere – leaving your bottom line in disarray.

A Neurological Need for Attachment with Others

As I’ve discussed in previous blog posts about the limbic system, the importance of safe and secure connections cannot be overstated. “The performance of stressful tasks is associated with less negative effect in the presence of familiar friends than with strangers,” according to Dr. Jim Coan. This means our neural benefits are not obtained by simply being in the presence of just anyone – just any coworker; we need trusted connections. Colleagues we can count on.

How can you be a trusted connection to your employees? First and foremost, you have to monitor your actions, behaviors, and attitude for consistency and predictability. If employees know what they are getting from you, their limbic system will not hijack their cognitive capabilities, which leaves more bandwidth for the tasks at hand. Second, get to know your employees. Find out their interests and strengths, and do what you can to apply those to their work assignments.

Not sure if you are fulfilling your role in serving as a safe and secure connection to all of your employees? That’s reasonable – you may have 10, even 20+ direct reports. If that’s the case, put more of an effort towards fostering trusted connections among your employees through team building exercises or an occasional event outside of the workplace. Everyone on your team needs to have a trusted connection at work – but that doesn’t mean you have to be the only trusted connection they have. Create an environment that encourages supportive, collegial relationships among employees for maximum impact.

Core Values & Your Behavior

A few months, ago I touched on the challenge of living the values of your company, and the importance of this type of leadership cannot be overstated. You must correct behavior that is not in alignment with the behavior you want to see, but first, you must live the core values of the organization yourself. For instance, are you trying to develop accountability in your team? Start by asking yourself how you demonstrate accountable behaviors. Is integrity a core value? Be sure you don’t participate in gossip-filled conversations yourself.

The truth is, most supervisors and managers are not naturally equipped to manage other adults. This is why many in managerial positions operate in such dysfunctional ways, which unfortunately sends the message to employees that poor performance is tolerated. The good news? Just by becoming more intentional, you can improve your own performance as a leader, and consequently your employees’ experience. Leaders must embody the behaviors they hope to see in their team, or else employees won’t respect what you are trying to develop or change. Remember, people want to follow a leader who they trust will make them better, stronger individuals.

Key Takeaways

  • You, the leader, set the tone for your team. You teach people how to treat each other based on how you treat your team.
  • Show up consistently and predictably every single day to create the safe and secure environment where engagement thrives.
  • Join our Manager Resource Center for a deeper dive into leadership best practices and practical tools.