With the pandemic came one of the biggest disruptions in our physical workplace, company culture, leadership and lives. The patterns we got stuck in were interrupted big time! We were forced to immediately replace old habits with new ones. In the process, we stopped, got off the “hamster wheel” of our busy lives, reflected and noticed what’s most important in our lives.

As companies put in guidelines so their employees can safely return to work in this new normal, people are quitting their jobs in what some are calling the “Great Resignation.”  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in April 2021, a record all-time high of 4 million people quit their jobs. This equals a 2.7 percent rate of quit, which is the highest recorded since the BLS started collecting this data in 2000. With these resignations, comes a record high number of job openings – 9.3 million, according to the BLS. Today employees have the upper hand. The Great War for Talent is on!

Unless leaders have created a culture that people want to be a part of, they won’t attract the best talent. Unless they know how to engage them to bring out their best selves, people won’t experience purpose in their work they desire. Unless there’s a leadership path where their contributions are valued, where they feel a part of something greater than themselves, they won’t stay. Yes, this is what keeps your best talent today!

Executives and senior managers are befuddled at exit reviews, especially from young people. Here’s a few, shared with me from frustrated leaders who reached out for help.

  • I don’t want to work nights and weekends!
  • I’m changing my career. I found a company that values my talents, where I can work normal hours and spend time with my kids.
  • All this company cares about is business development. They don’t care about the people.
  • The beliefs of this company are not my beliefs.
  • I can’t express my ideas here. When I do, the leaders don’t listen.
  • This was never my ideal job. I want to find something I love doing.
  • Working from home, I can be myself. But at work, I must be someone else. I need to find a company where I can be me!
  • It’s time I retire so I can stop working so hard and enjoy my life.

These sentiments, I’m hearing way too often. People are crying out for a different kind of leader and company culture. They won’t put up with less. Many young people won’t work for Corporate America. Instead, they’re working independently or starting their own business. In 2020, independent workers’ wages and participation grew 33%. In fact, 41.1 million adults across ages, skill sets, and income levels are working independently as consultants, freelancers, contractors, and temporary or on-call workers in 2019. They are contributing $1.3 billion to the U.S. economy— or 6.2% of the US GDP.

Today, there’s a shortage of good talent which puts the burden on leaders and their people. Employees, burned out from carrying the load for too long are unhappy; senior management is frustrated because they can’t find talent with the kind of experience they need. They’re realizing they’ll have to develop good potential people into the best fit for the position. Millennials are ready to be those people. With over 56 million, they’re the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Their workplace experience has an enormous impact on business outcomes. It turns out what matters to millennials, matters to all of us. They’re just the first generation taking a strong stand.

According to the Gallup study “How Millennials Want to Work and Live”, here’s how leaders must change their thinking.

PAST                                          FUTURE

My Paycheck                              My Purpose

My Satisfaction                          My Development

My Boss                                     My Coach

My Annual Review                     My Ongoing Conversations

My Weaknesses                         My Strengths

My Job                                       My Life

What’s the path to go from the past to the present and into the future?  I’ve discovered over the last decade there are five LeaderShifts, leaders must make to thrive in this new normal, ones that especially resonate with millennials and Gen Zs. Bill, a client and partner in a national firm is a great example of a leader who made the shifts. He’s inspiring his senior managers to not just meet their goals but to exceed them even in these challenging times.

From Control to CONNECT & RECEIVE

When the pandemic hit, Bill’s company had to let many employees go. Bill knew that this would increase the workload on his senior team. Thrown into uncertainty, with his people working virtually, he had to let go of controlling everything. Instead, he reached out and connected (how I feel when I’m with you) with each person because he truly cared. Setting up weekly individual calls, his conversations steered away from work to finding out how they were personally doing. He even kept a journal, so he’d remember what was most important to them. Happy to hear from him and feeling his compassion, they opened in ways that surprised him. The personal setting revealed more of their gifts, blind spots, patterns, fears. It helped him to receive who they were, so he better engaged and coached them to become the leaders they wanted and needed to be.

From Conformity to SEE & ACCEPT

To support them on their leadership journey, he individually coaches them on a path that honors the uniqueness of each individual. He sees and accepts all of who they are – gifts, blind spots, patterns. Through a Gift-Centered Approach, he helps them to discover and honor their own gifts; engages them in practices to turn blind spots into strengths and shares self-observations so they’re aware of patterns that don’t support them and replaces them with ones that do. Knowing that Bill is a source of guidance and support, brings a sense of relief, motivating them with new energy to go the extra mile.

From Expectation to INTENTIONS

When the layoffs happened, instead of expecting his people to do the extra work, his intention was to immediately look at the situation unfolding and find every way he could to support them in being their best. He helped them see how their gifts could make a significant difference in the challenges they faced. He shared stories from his own transformational journey, opening them to new distinctions and ways of being in the world as a leader. Instead of expecting certain results based on his standards, he had the intention to support them to rise to their own highest standards.

Bill’s intention to observe and see their gifts; praise the gift even when seeing a glimpse of it being used makes his people feel highly valued for their contributions. Gift-Centered Praise is a powerful practice that is helping him to connect with his people virtually and through emails; reinforce the good by acknowledging their gifts. He’s noticing that it’s helping them feel valued; go the extra mile; find purpose in their work because they know their gifts are making a difference.

From Authority to AUTHENTICITY

During these challenging times, Bill finds himself taking more Walks in Beauty and doing other practices of appreciation, helping him to tap into his compassion, so he sees past his people’s actions and connects into the heart of who they are.

Although he’s in his compassionate heart more often, when one of his people acted without thinking of the long-term consequences, he got triggered into his authoritative attitude. “I found myself lecturing instead of being curious about the blind spots that were tripping her up and my unwanted patterns took over,” he told me. However, realizing what happened, he recentered, becoming grounded and present; then apologized to her. Through Gift-Centered language, he opened the conversation to discovering how their gifts triggered each other. Now, they discussed how they both could redirect their gifts, so they better serve the other. By being open and vulnerable, Bill is cultivating a culture where his people feel safe to be their authentic self and where he’s living into the kind of authentic leader he wants to be.

From Bottom-line Myopia to BELONGING

By making the LeaderShifts, Bill is creating a culture where people feel they belong. They’re inspired to go the extra mile and do whatever is needed to achieve the department’s goals. They are building a strong foundation in preparation for their next level of leadership.  Some are up for partner.

A month ago, Bill mentioned that as he has made these changes, these past two years have been the best years of his life. It was heartwarming to hear. In the beginning of his journey, his senior managers felt he was insensitive to their needs. Today, I’ve seen emails from these same people expressing their deep and heartfelt gratitude. In fact, other senior managers, who aren’t his direct reports want him to coach them. They’ve heard that “he’s the best!” By making the “shifts,” Bill is living into being the exceptional leader he always envisioned he could be.


Susan Inouye

* Sawubona: A Zulu greeting meaning “I see you.”