Article authored by Qualigence CEO & founder Steve Lowisz

The media often misleads us about the essence of true leadership. Amidst the noise, the fundamental principle of building effective leadership relationships is frequently overshadowed. This article challenges the ‘flavor of the month’ ideas in leadership, emphasizing the need for genuine connections to retain and engage great teams.

“Give them bean bag chairs, and they will stay!”

“Give them unlimited time off, and they will be more engaged!”

“Let people work 100% remotely, and they’ll deliver better work!”

In the last few years, how many different variations of this story have you heard? But it’s all BS! 

This is not “leadership.” It’s pandering.

It’s like giving a problem student candy before a test…in the hopes they’ll do better on the test.

What kind of teacher would do that? 

It’s all well and good to give your team perks and rewards when it makes sense. But let’s be honest, it does NOTHING to address the root causes of turnover and low engagement…or any other employee issue

Where’s the data to support this idea?  Why do we continue to believe that mere foosball tables, increased PTO, or flexible work schedules are the keys to inspiring and retaining our teams?

Building Effective Leadership Relationships for Retention and Engagement

The core of real retention and fostering team engagement starts with building strong leadership relationships. This point feeds into one of the biggest lies we’re taught about leadership. 

Leaders are often told that they can’t be friends with their teams or that they shouldn’t get too close to their people. And I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who say they don’t need relationships at work!

In fact, I used to say the same thing!  Of all the leadership lies I’ve heard…this one is the most dangerous! 

It’s total baloney. Think about the best leaders you’ve ever had, whether they’re teachers, leaders at work, coaches you had growing up, etc. 

They inspired you to deliver your absolute best. Why? Because you KNEW they cared about you!

You knew they believed in you…and you wanted to prove them right. 

Demonstrating Care: A Pillar of Effective Leadership Relationships

How can you know someone cares about you if you don’t have any relationship with them? 

How demoralizing is it to work for someone who doesn’t care whether you work there or not or how your life is going? 

If you desire the best FROM your teams, you first have to want the best FOR your teams. This only happens when you build REAL relationships with them.

Of course, there are boundaries we must respect as professionals, But you must take the time to get to know your team members as individuals.

Do they have a family? Are they married? How do they define their specific personal and professional goals? What are they passionate about, and what drives them crazy? Do they have any hobbies? How are things going for them? 

You should want to build relationships – and even have a level of friendship – with as many of your team members as possible!  This part is CRUCIAL for the next step… 

Fostering Team Engagement by Meeting True Needs

Once you have relationships with your team members, you can give them what they actually need – the pieces of leadership that inspire people to excel and stick around in the workplace. 

  • Clear Expectations – People need to know what’s expected of them. If they don’t know what’s expected of them, it’s partly your fault if they underperform! Give people crystal clear expectations so they know when they’re succeeding or need to step up their game. Make sure they know how success is actually measured. 
  • Accountability of a Winning Team – We ALL need accountability sometimes! Nothing boosts performance like someone who cares about you and holds you accountable. It’s not about punishment or harsh criticisms, it’s about stepping in to make sure your friend is doing all they can to meet and exceed their clearly defined expectations. 
  • Challenging Your Teams – Even the best of us need someone to challenge us. No matter how great someone is doing in their role, there’s always room for improvement – and a great leader pushes their team to grow, learn new skills, and raise the bar.
  • Showing Appreciation – People want to know they are truly appreciated. Free lunches, extra PTO, and all that is great, but it’s no substitute for real gratitude and appreciation from someone who cares about you. 

The foundation of lasting team engagement lies in building effective leadership relationships that go beyond superficial interactions. Without a real relationship with your team members, several of these items are impossible!

Get the Best FOR Your People…Not the Best FROM Your People

At the end of the day, a great leader doesn’t just want the best FROM their people…they really want the best FOR their people. 

There’s a big difference between the two! And it begins with your intent!  Getting the best from your people is selfish – it’s all about your own benefit. 

Getting the best FOR your people is selfless – it’s about THEIR OWN growth and success. 

Instead of trying to retain and engage teams simply for your own benefit, do it because it’s helping them succeed in their personal and professional lives and reach their full potential. 

Next time you hear some BS about giving away the farm to make employees happy, remember – it doesn’t work long-term! 

We need real relationships with our teams to address the root causes that inspire people to stay and excel at our company long-term. Don’t believe the leadership BS! 

If you want to build a strong talent pipeline sooner than later, schedule a no-obligation call with our team today to learn about our sourcing solutions.

If you’re serious about increasing your effectiveness as a leader or developing your leadership internally, check out my leadership development experiences. I teach from my own experiences, successes, and failures in over 20+ years of business leadership – and give you the tools to inspire your teams to perform.