Prevent talent from leaving: 6 pitfalls for leaders

Giving employees too much freedom, or not enough; taking work out of their hands; or not setting aside enough time for yourself. These are all common pitfalls for managers. And they have an effect on your staff. Because your leadership style can determine whether employees want to stay with the company, or would rather leave.

Do you want to keep your employees? Then read how Bas Kodden, Professor of Leadership & Management Development at Nyenrode Business University, explains how to avoid pitfalls in your leadership.

Your leadership style refers to the way you manage and support your team members and inspire them to achieve a specific goal. Professor Kodden explains six major pitfalls you must avoid in order to retain your staff.

1. Too much freedom

You should give your employees the freedom to perform their tasks or make decisions on their own. But do that carefully, warns Kodden. “If your employees have too much freedom, they might not feel supported or recognised by their manager, because they do not receive enough feedback. You are actually ignoring your employees, even though they bear all the responsibilities.”

Kodden calls this leadership style ‘laissez faire leadership’. Laissez fair is French for ‘let it go’. “It is the main cause of burnouts and harassment at work.” Kodden compares it to a snake pit. “Dominant snakes overwhelm the weaker snakes. If the manager does not rein in the dominant snakes, it can create a culture of fear. And the weaker snakes do not feel safe enough to stand up for themselves. For example, in cases of inappropriate behaviour.”

Tip: Intervene when necessary

“It is fine to take a step back as a manager. But avoid going all the way to the laissez faire leadership style. Intervene when necessary. For example, when the results are disappointing, or during unexpected events like the COVID-19 outbreak.” According to Kodden, there is no such thing as a ‘self-managing team’. “They always need a leader to make the final decisions and ensure safety.”

2. Not enough freedom

Kodden explains that dominant leaders (in Dutch) want to standardise processes as much as possible. The manager makes the decisions and inspects the completed work. That does not leave enough room for the employees’ own insights and opinions. “They command or control their people, or meddle with too many details.” That presents the risk that employees can become overburdened, because they are not challenged enough, or do not get support for their ideas.

Tip: Give employees their own responsibilities

According to a study by the recruitment bureau Hays (in Dutch), employees are happier and healthier when you let them work independently, and you rely on their knowledge and experience. The majority of the employees surveyed think that their employers are even partly responsible for their health and well-being. “In addition to responsibility for their own work, give your employees personal attention and appreciation for their efforts”, advises Kodden. “Because that will make them feel loyal to you.”

3. Not enough time for yourself

As a manager, do you take enough time for yourself? If you do not, Kodden believes you can lose your focus. “As an entrepreneur, you usually start your business full of energy. You dive into every opportunity, and push on relentlessly. But if you do not check whether you are still moving towards your goal now and then, or whether you are prioritising certain activities, then you may be going in circles. Your employees will worry about their future at your company, and they might leave. Or worse: your company can quickly go bankrupt.”

Tip: Review your own behaviour

Set aside time and space to think about your own behaviour and choices. “Ask someone who does not have anything to do with your business to help you with your problem. For example, entrepreneurs who have been in similar situations. Ask how they solved the problem.”

Kodden recommends saving time by limiting meetings to a single group meeting per week. In just three years, his company grew to employ 25 people, and they added a layer of management. So he decided to get rid of one-on-one meetings. “In addition to saving time, it also kept everyone informed about everything. I was able to prevent office politics, and employees learned from one another’s feedback.”

4. Helping instead of supporting

Kodden believes that professionals do not need help. “The pitfall is that you take over part of their work, and employees will start slacking off. The danger is that they will no longer be able to solve their own problems, lose their sense of curiosity, or feel unchallenged. That could be a reason for your employees to feel less involved in your company.”

Tip: Let employees solve problems themselves

“Give your employees the opportunity to solve problems themselves”, Kodden advises. “If that does not work, you can also coach them (in Dutch). But do not do that right away, because it could result in your employees not being able to recognise the problem and deal with it. For example, if you have three job openings for a team of 25 people, let the other 22 think of a way to temporarily fill the three openings together.”

5. Listening to your employees too much

Kodden calls listening ‘the most overrated quality of leadership’. “A lot of entrepreneurs think that they are good leaders because they are good at listening. But a manager who mainly listens to employees runs the risk of adopting their opinions. Even if they do not match reality. Never make decisions based purely on what you hear during conversations.”

Tip: Keep an eye on the workplace

Kodden recommends that managers watch employees while they work. “That gives you a much better idea of what they do and which decisions they make. I know an entrepreneur who eats breakfast in the company cafeteria. He not only sees the interactions between the employees but also has time for a chat. And his employees can also find him easily if they need him.”

6. Using one leadership style

There are dozens of different leadership styles. “But no single style works all the time. Situations are always different and are always changing. Sometimes one style is a better fit than another. You should also adjust your leadership style to the individual employee. Different employees have different personalities and needs.”

Tip: Constantly adjust your leadership style

“Constantly adjust your style of leadership to suit the situation and the person you are dealing with”, says Kodden. You can do that by mastering the four basic leadership styles (in Dutch). “Those are: letting employees lead, facilitating, coaching, and directing.”

Choose carefully when to use which leadership style. “When the results are good and everything is running smoothly, let your employees take the lead themselves. When the results are not so good, help employees solve their problems. Only use coaching if that does not work. And finally, only use directive leadership if an employee is not performing well, and the profit is under pressure. Give clear assignments and make agreements about the deadline and the results. If the financial results do not improve, you may have to say farewell to the employee.”