Great leaders cultivate the foundation for a terrific work experience for their employees -- a place where people are motivated and inspired and want to be a part of the company.
Growing up in Cupertino, California, I was keen to become an Apple employee -- it was like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory to me: The culture was fun and experimental, the company created products that people loved interacting with, employees enjoyed many benefits, and the leaders developed a creative environment that people generally thrived in.
Of course, it's well-documented how Steve Jobs was challenged from a leadership perspective in terms of his interpersonal skills. I was privileged to call Steve a personal mentor, and while I witnessed that behavior at times, it was never directed at me. Steve's idiosyncratic nature may have turned some off, but the culture was so strong that most employees loved working there. Retention was exceptionally high during my time at Apple.
Contrast that with the situation at Uber, where Travis Kalanick was recently asked to step down as CEO after allegations of discrimination surfaced (though he'll remain on the board of directors). Steve built a solid company that inspired thousands of employees; Travis was stripped of his title due to persistent turbulence at the company he built -- arguably a leadership gap.
While stories of internal meltdowns of company culture aren't new, if you want to hold on to your best people, differences in leadership styles are worth exploring.
How Leadership Styles Can Attract or Repel
In one survey, 42 percent of employees felt that executive leadership does not contribute positively to company culture. That stat should give you pause if you're a startup CEO.
I once worked at a startup where the CEO turned out to have incredibly poor leadership skills. For starters, he was moonlighting at a full-time job to keep money coming in until he secured funding, which was awkward and confusing. He was terrible at communicating with employees, and as things got more challenging, he stopped trying altogether. He even left the country and went AWOL just when investors had shown interest.
On the flip side, I worked with a Nashville-based music tech startup CEO who had been an early Microsoft employee. He cared equally for the well-being of his team members and the management of the business, going out of his way to get individual feedback on decisions and approaches to help people understand that they mattered to the company. He also made sure to celebrate individuals during key life events like birthdays, engagements, births, and the like. He cared!
In essence, this CEO created a fun, family-like atmosphere where people worked hard and played hard -- everyone felt inspired to do their best work. Great leaders not only generate strong results and positive external press, but they also create a culture around their own values, and this includes valuing their employees.
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What Not to Do to Improve Recruitment and Retention
In my experience, CEOs struggle to attract and retain top talent for a few reasons. If you find yourself guilty of any of these bad behaviors, take a good look in the mirror and consider what type of leader would inspire you to go above and beyond.
1. Not being clear about expectations upfront
One study found 22 percent of employees are stressed by unrealistic expectations. They want to know what direction the company is headed, their own team's objectives, and what they personally are expected to contribute to achieve a given set of goals.
As a leader, you're accountable for providing the input and direction to set and clarify high expectations so that employees are clear on their priorities.
2. Being evasive about shifting strategies or constrained resources
As Uber has undoubtedly learned this year, when people are distracted by scuttlebutt and rumors, it can hamper productivity and morale. That's when good people start to get restless and look elsewhere.
For 83 percent of employees surveyed in one study, trust in company leaders contributes to a more positive work environment. When changes arise in an organization, it's incumbent upon management to address employees and openly share the implications of decisions and how they impact day-to-day operations. Keep them in the loop.
3. Pulling back or exhibiting avoiding/hiding behavior
Guess what? Your employees are smart. That's why you hired them. They need to know they can count on direct support and senior leadership. When you are not approachable or accessible -- especially when it's obvious that you're not interacting or engaging with employees -- it can be highly unnerving and stressful for them.
Again, this can lead to restlessness and anxiety that can negatively impact morale and productivity. One thing Apple always had going for it was that it created innovative products that people loved. Steve's personal quirks didn't deter top talent from wanting to contribute to the mission.
When you build a culture where individuals feel valued and are recognized publicly for their contributions, they're incentivized to stay put and to do their best work on a long-term basis. Ultimately, as a leader, if you acknowledge your top talent for their unique gifts, they will give their all to the greater whole -- and stay the course, even when the going gets tough.