Business man cover face with question boardIt used to be that employees showed up to work and quietly punched out a full day without making much noise. Of course, workplace dynamics were much simpler then. Today’s working professionals know there is a constant demand for them to perform at a high level, to innovate, and to be all they can be. Interestingly enough, this pressure is being thrown right back at leadership. And why is this? Because people have become self-aware, and they will not stick around if their needs and wants are not met.

According to a recent exit survey conducted by LinkedIn, out of 7,350 people surveyed, the number one reason people left their job was because they wanted greater opportunities for advancement. Today’s leaders need to leave behind any behaviors that may discourage employee commitment. They have to know who their employees are first before they can do this, because today’s workforce is self-aware of its needs and wants.

Having a self-aware workforce puts leaders in an extraordinary position to bear the weight of success or failure with employees. But this weight doesn’t have to drag leadership right into the ground like gravity naturally does to us. This weight can be shared. Employees are part of the variables that make up the business formula for success. There has to be a different level for how leadership understands and knows its workforce. It begins when leaders understand this new concept: Leaders work for their employees, not the other way around. Real leaders start working for their employees when they begin asking big questions about their workforce. Because to succeed is to move forward, and to move forward we must not leave those behind who wish to succeed. Remember, we are in this together.

So leadership needs to start by asking these three questions first: 

1) Why Do They Come Into Work?

Is it the money that comes along with the job, or is it about a purpose bigger than ourselves? We all have different reasons why we come into work every day. I mean, let’s be honest, we all have bills to pay. That’s one reason we come to work, but it doesn’t stop there. Some of us enjoy what we do. We find it challenging, purposeful, and rewarding. Leaders need to get to the root as to why we come into work every day. They must ask this question about their employees because it factors into how people work and feel about their job. When employees feel that at least one of their four needs (renewal, value, focus, and purpose) has been met then, “…they report a 30 percent higher capacity to focus, almost 50 percent higher level of engagement, and a 63 percent greater likelihood to stay with the company.” Because when you are able to address what makes people tick then you can begin to find little ways to make their job more meaningful. And it’s the little things that add up into one big thing. Success! 

2) What Kind Of Worker Are They?

Knowing how people work is everything. It tells you if they’re capable of meeting deadlines on time. You learn if they have a tendency to cut corners in their work. But what you also gather and discover, is what they excel at. Now, I may take a little heat for this, but being from New England, I can’t help but reference Bill Belichick, New England Patriots head coach, as a prime example of a leader who knows how to bring out what someone does really well. He focuses on what players’ strengths are and knows how to utilize them to maximize their productivity on the field. This can work in the workplace as well. According to Gallup research, out of the 37 percent of employees who agreed that “My supervisor focuses on my strengths or positive characteristics,” 61 percent of them were engaged at work, which is twice the percentage of Americans that said they are engaged at work. Clearly, it couldn’t hurt for employers to pay attention to workers’ skill sets.

3) What Is Happiness To Them?

It may sound simple, but it’s really not. Turning employees into happy and productive workers is an art form, which few have mastered. For some, it’s as simple as having an office window or a free parking spot. For others, it becomes a little more complex. According to a survey by CareerBuilder: 88 percent of respondents said money mattered, 59 percent said flexible schedules mattered, and 48 percent said being able to make a difference mattered to them. At the end of the day, whatever the case may be, leaders that know what keeps their people happy will win big. People forget that an office is like a second home. You may not sleep there (hopefully), but you do have to spend a significant amount of time there. Leaders that work to understand what makes their employees happy and build a better workplace culture will see better results. Besides, who wants an office filled with grumpy employees?

Leaders Have To Be Better Conductors

Going back to my point that employees are more self-aware of their needs and wants. Leaders have to be held accountable for how effective they are at driving employee morale, productivity, and development. While we all have our own take on what a leader should or shouldn’t be, just maybe we can agree on this: Leaders are a lot like orchestra conductors. The better the conductor, the better the sound people will hear. That sound I’m referring to is the difference between employee turnover or engaged employees. And quite frankly, it’s a little concerning when 86 percent of business and HR leaders believe they do not have an adequate leadership pipeline, based on a report from Deloitte Consulting LLP and Bersin.

Leaders have to be on the hook for how employees succeed or fail at their work. They can begin by learning to work for their employees. It’s not just about asking employees “how their weekend was.” Leaders need to take the time to get to know people. I’m not talking about joining them for happy hour, although it is a great way to forget about work for an hour. I mean, take the time to speak with them about what their needs and wants are, work with them to showcase their strengths, and find out what matters to them.


When you start to ask questions about your employees, you may find what they really need or want, may not be that far from obtaining. And no, sitting down with employees and asking them questions doesn’t have to be awkward. Not if you’re being real and displaying professional sincerity. Taking the time to ask questions about employees is worth boosting happiness and productivity at the office. Don’t you think? Remember, we’re all in this together. When leadership fails, employees fail, and vice versa.

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