Sorry couldn’t avoid the pun. But here’s the point — no matter how great of a leader you are, your top talent may leave at some point. If you’re a less than great leader, your top talent is already leaving. Either way, in these situations you have a choice. You can be a great leader and learn OR you can give into your insecurities and take it personally. Here’s how you can lose your top talent and what to do when that happens.
Treat them all the same
A rookie mistake I made as a new leader was thinking that I was only being fair if I treated all of my employees exactly the same. WRONG. Nobody wants to be a cog in a machine. You are working with HUMANS not machines (even if there are lots of machines in your workplace). It is incredibly important that each of your employees feel they are treated like an individual, are invested in and valued, and are clear on their expectations. Download my freebie here, “The 12 Resounding Yes’s You Need to Attract & Retain Top Talent” to get your environment right.
Take everything personally
Oh man, isn’t it fun to work with a boss (or a colleague) that takes everything personally? You can’t make any suggestions, provide any feedback, or take a sick day without your boss getting pissed off or act like you’ve personally attacked them. 🤦🏻♀️
As a leader you have to rise above. Don’t punish people for being sick and don’t say you have an “open door policy”, then get defensive every time someone brings you a suggestion. Don’t be silly and take it as a personal insult when one of your staff puts in an overtime request because you do SO much for them, why in the world would they nickel and dime you like that?! Come on!
Realize that your team has complementary strengths to you and have insights that can help you all to be better as a team. The whole, “two heads are better than one” deal. And sorry, we all have trouble seeing ourselves clearly, take it as a huge asset that you have mirrors in your team that are willing to help you grow as well.
Your team wants a true leader, not someone that avoids confrontation like the plague. I once had a boss that I adored as a human, but was a less than great leader. She watched her team deteriorate after months of warnings, pleas for help, and opportunities to intervene all because she couldn’t bear the confrontation with our two teammates who were having trouble. (These teammates ended up getting in a physical altercation in front of clients and one was terminated immediately — completely avoidable).
When you see a red flag, hear a piece of gossip, or have a team member brave enough to ask for your help ACT QUICKLY. Avoiding the problem only makes it worse, and then you have a problem with that team member AND you’ve lost the respect and confidence of your high-performing team members. No one wants to work in a team where their leader turns a blind eye and low-performance is just brushed under the rug. Why would anyone be motivated to do great work in that environment??
Okay, I did everything right and my top talent is still leaving. What do I do?
First, realize this is a learning experience. If you’ve really been a great leader you have the opportunity to create an ambassador out of this exiting talent and improve your conditions to retain the rest of your talent.
Do a GREAT exit interview
Don’t pass up this amazing learning opportunity. You’ll probably never get more honesty than when someone has one foot out the door so now is your chance. If you feel raw about losing this person or maybe you don’t have the best relationship with them, then have someone else perform the exit interview. Do everything you can to make that environment a comfortable one for the exiting team member so you can glean as much information as possible. Check this article out for great exit interview questions.
PS – you should be doing “Stay Interviews” as well, long before anyone leaves. More to come on that next week.
Celebrate the person and their accomplishments
Don’t let this person leave without a going-away celebration. It can be as simple as a going-away card or as elaborate as a fancy dinner out. But recognize their accomplishments and contributions to the team and do what you can to help out their career moving forward.
Now I get this takes a LOT of humility but it’s worth it for two main reasons. First, this boosts your team’s morale to show your level of maturity and your appreciation for a team member even when they’re leaving. Second, this is how you make an ambassador of your exiting staff. You never know, they might send you your next top talent!
DO NOT GET PETTY
You might take it very personally when someone leaves. Maybe you feel like you invested so much in them and they owed you to stay, or maybe they’re moving to your competition and you feel betrayed. It sucks and you’re a human — it’s natural to feel hurt. Your instinct may be to ice them out and ignore them for their last two weeks, or cut them early, but you are also a LEADER, and leaders rise above.
Please, do NOT be the person that bad mouths the exiting staff to other staff or your board, or tells everyone that “we’re better off”, or it’s no big deal because there are 10,000 other people who would kill for their job. This shows your team that they cannot be honest with you, that you do not care about their futures but rather only your own success, and totally drowns the trust of your team. Acknowledge the loss to your team, take the learning opportunity, and check-in on your team to see if they’re experiencing some of the things that made this other talent leave.
So, what now?
Reminisce on the last top talent that left your organization? How did you handle that as a leader — or how did your leader handle it? What could you (or your leader) have done better to learn from the opportunity? Share with us in the comments. 🗣
Talk soon 👋🏻