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Leadership Success: Embrace the Personal Side of Leading

It’s an old cliché that people quit their bosses, not their jobs. Early in my career, I never really understood the idea of people leaving a job just because of their leadership. I believed that the leader was always at the unquestionable top and employees had to accept whatever rolled down to them.

As I moved through my leadership journey, I experienced the truth that people do quit their bosses. The majority of the government employees that I know are happy and dedicated civil servants. They understand that their service reflects a higher calling than simply themselves. Despite this dedication there is one common factor that I have seen causing loyal employees to leave: the effects of working for a bad leader.

We have all witnessed technical geniuses moving from the employee level into managerial roles. Sometimes these geniuses make a seamless transition into management. They can successfully adapt to their new leadership position. On the other hand, there are the individuals that refuse to change their style. They continue using their approach as the technical geniuses, spending no time on the soft-skills required to lead.

You may wonder, “whose responsibility is it to adapt, the employees or the new manager?” Several years ago, Google launched Project Oxygen to determine what role the quality of leaders played in the success of employees and organizations. The results showed that leadership quality, empathy and good old-fashioned relationship building created highly-engaged and successful workgroups. In addition, science and data proved that facts alone are not the deciding factors for success or failure. The feelings and opinions of the workforce matter as much, maybe even more than, the facts.

Think about it this way. Have you ever received bad news and reacted positively? Maybe the facts given to you were not great, but the person delivering the message made it acceptable. This is where the power of building relationships and having empathy comes into play. In these scenarios, feelings and opinions overcome facts.

We all come to work as people first and employees second. Everyone has good and bad days. Furthermore, we have emotions that are involved in how we react to different situations. When you have those bad days or experiences, do you want to hear from a leader that has empathy and built a relationship with you? Or, do you want the technical genius without the soft-skills?

Taking the time to get to know employees and build meaningful relationships with them is a necessity for a successful leader. Creating an environment where communication flows back and forth between leadership and employees is what keeps individuals and teams successful.

Here are some tips to help build successful relationships with employees:

  • Schedule dedicated, individual time with your employees.
  • Provide structure for your one-on-one meetings.
  • Get to know the career goals and passions of your employees.
  • Treat your employees the way that they want to be treated.
  • Be visible and interact with your employees (virtually or in-person).
  • Celebrate individual and team successes.
  • Let employees know what matters the most to you.

Employee engagement is built one conversation at a time. Making a workplace environment where everyone feels supported, listened to and trusted will help any leader retain a dedicated and talented workforce. The more engaged and involved your workforce becomes, the more committed to your mission the entire organization will be.

Andy Reitmeyer is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is the Associate Director for the Engagement and Retention office, Internal Revenue Service. He is responsible for leading engagement strategies for IRS. He has been part of the IRS Engagement and Retention office since its inception. Andy’s tenure with IRS includes numerous domestic and international senior leadership roles. Andy earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Point Park University, a Juris Doctor from Taft University and a Certificate in Executive Leadership from Cornell University. In addition, he has a French Language Diploma from the French Government. Andy is a graduate of the IRS Executive Readiness Program. You can read his posts here.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

Great blog, Andrew! As you noted, people will sometimes forget what you said, but they always remember how you made them feel. Keeping this in mind is crucial to building strong relationships at work.