Want to attract the best? Try frankness and curiosity

The oft-repeated adage, “People don’t leave organizations, they leave managers,” is truer than it’s ever been.

Here in the second half of 2022, the Great Resignation is still going strong, the job search is still a buyer’s market, and organizations are still struggling to attract and retain the right people. Organizations need to find a new way to stand out because a good salary on its own is not the most attractive offer in today’s hiring market.

Many of today’s top candidates are looking for more than just a paycheck. They want the truth. Trust. Respect. A sense of belonging. Give and take. They want to be seen and heard. To that end, the most important skill every leader needs to develop right now is the ability to engage in quality conversations with their people.

My son, Scott, has demonstrated this skill frequently since taking over as President of our company in January 2020, just prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. Frequent and transparent communication from management has been key in guiding our people – and our organization – through this most difficult time in our history. The vulnerable and direct approach Scott has taken has given our employees the confidence to know that together we will continue to move forward towards a prosperous future.

We have a term for the ability to engage in constructive dialogue in difficult circumstances: conversational ability. Strengthening your leaders’ ability to keep the lines of communication open in the face of distractions or challenges will improve innovation, performance, and individual and team morale while enhancing the work experience. The key to building conversational skill is learning to behave in a way that balances candor with curiosity.

Franchise can be a gift

Whether a leader is speaking to an entire company or having a one-on-one meeting with a direct report, everyone they talk to wants to hear the truth. If a leader tries to skew the truth, it usually backfires.

Talk with candor is a concept that many people may not be comfortable with. They think it means to be outspoken or ill-mannered. But, for leaders who are humble, open-minded and interested in diverse viewpoints, candor can be a welcome gift to the person on the other end of the conversation. They don’t have to wonder what their leader thinks or where they stand. When delivered with respect and humility, candor is a valuable tool for effective communication.

Be curious and listen carefully

When Leaders Protest curiosity during conversations, it shows that they are interested in what the other has to say. They seek to better understand the other person’s point of view. Staying curious in a conversation means the leader is open-minded, curious, and eager to learn.

Conversations that only go one way don’t make sense. Leadership is about we, not me. Leaders who talk about them, who talk at their people instead of with them, do themselves a disservice. They miss out on the relationships they might have with their people. When a leader asks a direct report a question – something as simple as “What do you think?” – this can make a positive difference in how the person feels about that leader.

Asking people for their opinion helps them feel involved while giving the leader insight into how the person’s mind works. People want to tell their boss what they think, but most will wait to be asked.

The other aspect of expressing curiosity is listening. When people are asked to describe the main characteristics of a great leader, being a good listener is always one of the first mentioned. When people know their leader will really listen to their ideas, they will share their best thoughts. But when leaders only talk about themselves and act like they have all the answers, people shut up and are probably looking for a better leader.

The pandemic has caused a general feeling of instability for more than two and a half years. When people who already feel unsettled about certain things suspect that their leader isn’t being upfront with them or doesn’t care who they are or what they think, it makes the situation worse.

The oft-repeated adage, “People don’t leave organizations, they leave managers,” is truer than it’s ever been, but the stakes are higher now. High achievers looking for new opportunities are more attentive to finding the right fit for themselves.

Today’s best leaders know how to balance candor and curiosity when engaging in quality conversations. They are outspoken and honest while being humble and open-minded. These are the leaders who will be able to attract and retain the best candidates of today.

This article has been originally published by Chief Learning Officer, sister publication of Talent Management.

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