“It wasn’t an easy decision to leave,” said Diana, a manager who’d been a client of mine. We met for coffee, and she explained what happened. Diana said, “I avoided looking for another job for months. My husband and I have two children to support, and we were anxious about dropping down to just one salary.”
I asked Diana, “What finally prompted you to leave?”
Diana: “While I was on vacation with my family at Disney World, my boss called with a question. I just stood there dumbfounded. It was midday. My husband, our kids and I were there in the middle of the park, and she fully expected me to give her an informed response on the spot.”
Amy: “That’s rough. What was it like in your job day-to-day?”
Diana: “I’d been working 50-60 hours a week and, despite all my effort, my boss made me feel invisible. And to make things worse, when I made an error, she would throw me under the bus by documenting the mistake in an email to the executive team.”
Amy: “The finger-pointing must have been heartbreaking!”
Diana: “It was. Also, sometimes I’d be up until 10 or 11 PM on the phone working with my boss. The next morning, she would call and ask about why something wasn’t done yet, even when she knew full well that all I’d had time for was to go to sleep and get the kids off to school the next day.
Amy: “That sounds exhausting.”
Diana: “It was! But the most discouraging part was her lack of clear expectations. I never knew how to make her happy. Her expectations were always changing. What was unbelievable was, she couldn’t tell me what her expectations were even when we met with the VP of HR!
Amy: “Sounds like her expectations were a moving-target. That’s got to be tough!” (Diana nodded.)
What’s happening in industry
Clearly, Diana was poised to be part of the “Great Attrition.” Across industries, employers are being forced to “ride the wave” of the Great Attrition. How do we stem the tide and stabilize retention? McKinsey estimates that up to 40% of workers in the US are ready to leave their jobs, in part because increasing opportunities after the pandemic leave fewer reasons to tolerate abusive managers.(1)
But “rather than take the time to investigate the true causes of attrition, many companies are jumping to well-intentioned quick fixes that fall flat: for example, they’re bumping up pay or financial perks, like offering ‘thank you’ bonuses without making any effort to strengthen the relational ties people have with their colleagues and their employers.”(2) This leaves an employee feeling their work is strictly a transactional relationship rather than one of personal and professional growth that includes appreciation and a sense of belonging.
To create that culture of appreciation and belonging so employees stick around, leaders need cultural intelligence. Cultural intelligence is what enables a leader to show compassion for another within their context. This allows a leader to speak and act in ways that show genuine respect, so their employees feel valued, heard, seen and engaged. When a boss uses their cultural intelligence, they create the environment for human connection we all long for, effective relationships we need to be our authentic and productive selves and a work environment where employees thrive.
A few months prior to our coffee, Diana and I had met for her Executive Coaching session. During that meeting, she was struggling with the boss she described above but wasn’t yet ready to leave. She needed time.
Then, after some time, Diana emailed me, “Dr. Amy, I quit my company. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made for my career. I wanted to reach out to say, ‘Thank you!’” I love my new boss!”
I emailed her right back, “That’s awesome news! I’d love to learn how you landed where you are and all about your new boss. She sounds terrific! In fact, I’m writing a blog about how to upend attrition. Would you like to share what’s different now, so employers can learn from your experience?” That’s when Diana and I set up our coffee. After we sat down and got caught up, I asked…
Amy: “Can you tell me what’s different? What’s your new boss like?”
Diana: “Her leadership is awesome; I’d love to brag about her!”
Amy: “Tell me!
Diana: “With my new boss, I get public praise. For example, when emails go out to the corporate attorney to check our work, my boss gives me credit for a job well done. She talks me up to her own boss. He circles back to me and lets me know she’s been singing my praises.
“Another thing I love is that we meet 1:1 every other week to follow up on projects. And when I’m talking, she gives me her full attention; it’s like I’m the only person in the world in that moment! Her questions and tone encourage me to share. She asks questions like:
- “Where are you on this project?
- “What do you see as the next step?
- “How can I assist you?
“I appreciate how she speaks with me in a collaborative tone, communicating that my ideas are valued and wise. This way, she knows where I am in the project, and I know what she needs and by when. It’s such a relief to know her expectations!”
Amy: “Sounds like you feel seen and valued.” (Diana nodded.) “What does she say and do that makes you feel appreciated?”
Diana: “She’s unapologetic about how she cares for her direct-reports.”
Amy: “Would you help me understand what ‘unapologetic’ means and looks like for you?”
Diana: “For me, it means she lives, loves and works boldly. She’s a person who understands their God-given breath is the only permission that they need to be (intentional sentence ending). When one has a sense of value, humanity and a degree of peacefulness, my spirit and mind want to follow them. There is a calming energy because they are typically calm in spirit and the loving energy cannot be ignored. (I nodded.) She uses words like:
- “Thank you for waiting for me!
- “Diana, I’m so happy to see you!
- “How are you feeling about that last meeting?”
Amy: “I’d love to know what she does that’s supportive.”
Diana: “She’s so supportive! She…
- “Truly listens to understand me and my perspective. Then rephrases my statements to ensure she got the message.
- “Gives me her complete and undivided attention. Treats me as an equally collaborating party by asking questions and incorporating my input into her own work and then gives me credit.
- “Treats me as a trusted colleague and takes into account my family obligations and time off. It’s monumental!”
Diana’s boss is an effective and compassionate leader. Creating bonds with employees breaks down communication gaps, encourages equitable opportunities and helps employees feel connected with the company. Not only does a trusted boss, mentor or advisor help ensure an employee feels valued and seen in their workplace, 90% of workers who have a trusted mentor report being happy in their job.(2)
Diana told me, “Thank you for listening, for being empathetic, for reminding me that my feelings are valid. Because of our coaching sessions, I was able to sort through my feelings and thoughts and figure out next steps. Thank you for giving me space and for reminding me of my worth. This new job is a godsend.”
Diana had the courage and vulnerability to share her concerns, reflect on her needs and consider next steps she could take. To care about her job, colleagues, clients and family, Diana needed to first care for herself. Executive coaching based on cultural intelligence provides the time, space and compassion an effective leader needs for reflection, self-care and appreciation so they can be their most efficient, productive, authentic and innovative self at work. -Amy S. Narishkin, PhD
Who does this blog make you think of? Perhaps you’d like to thank them for their compassionate leadership. Please share this link with them.
- De Smet, A., Dowling, B., Mugayar-Baldocchi, M., & Schaninger, B. (Sept 8, 2021) McKinsey & Co: ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/great-attrition-or-great-attraction-the-choice-is-yours?cid=other-eml-shl-mip-mck&hlkid=4831f94ebbd94401b14b42a6d1ea74a0&hctky=1926&hdpid=85b740df-f5bc-479a-aa9a-d57a7c0a6e1e
- Wronski, L (July 16, 2019) CNBC: Nine in 10 workers who have a career mentor say they are happy in their jobs. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/16/nine-in-10-workers-who-have-a-mentor-say-they-are-happy-in-their-jobs.html
- Manian, D. and Wagstaff, E. (Nov 21, 2022) Quartz: The next big perk for Gen Z isn’t in the office: it’s belonging. https://qz.com/the-next-big-perk-for-gen-z-isn-t-in-the-office-it-s-b-1849806240
- Photo by freestocks on Unsplash