Mach10 Works, Episode 3: Leadership and Talent Retention


Below is a more detailed text version of the video of our conversation above.

Today, in our third episode of Mach10 Works, we’re going to talk about talent retention and leadership growth. More specifically, we’re going to explore what is often unsaid in executive team and Board meetings and well substantiated in the research–the elephant in the room: 

The cause of a talent drain is almost always a reflection of leadership shortfalls. Moreover, most of these shortfalls were fixable with proactive, one-on-one support from a Gestalt-trained leadership coach.

I know that not everyone wants to hear this. But the research on the primary cause of a talent drain is quite definitive: people primarily leave jobs because of issues they have with their boss, not because of the company. And this is why cultivating leadership skills should always be at the top of the CEO’s and the Board’s agenda. 

So here are two examples of the research on this subject:

A Gallup poll (2017) of more than 1 million employed U.S. workers concluded that the No. 1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor. 75% of workers who voluntarily left their jobs did so because of their bosses and not the position itself. In spite of how good a job may be, people will quit if the reporting relationship is not healthy. 

Gallup’s comprehensive 2015 study, “The State of the American Manager,” found 50% of Americans have left a job to “get away from their manager at some point in their career.

This relationship — between talent retention and leadership — is particularly important during periods of rapid change, when new leadership skills must be cultivated, because old habits are getting in the way or are simply no longer efficacious. 

Since we’re in a period of rapid change right now, it’s critical to think about leadership competency as a risk factor for organizations. It should, however, also be viewed through the lens of opportunity. By this, I mean it’s an opportunity for growth, to leap-frog your old leadership standards and establish leadership excellence as a dimension of your competitive strength.

Lastly, I think it’s important to remember that losing talent is very expensive and highly contagious.  Some estimate, on average, it costs $45,000 to replace an employee. It is also often disruptive to an operation. 


So David, we hear so much about an existential crisis in the workplace today – some call it the “great resignation.” Does this relate to what you are calling “the elephant in the room,” the relationship between talent retention and leadership growth?


Yes, Rob, it absolutely does, although surely the pandemic adds a whole new wrinkle to people’s mindsets and the imperative for leadership adaptability. But make no mistake, effectively leading a team or an entire organization to accomplish something together is never for the faint of heart and requires continuous growth and development. It takes work and support. Leaders constantly need to make adjustments, to discontinue habits that no longer work, and develop new skills to adapt, and this can cause a lot of personal stress. 

Today’s changes are really testing people’s resilience and creative adaptation, not to mention their energy capacity. It’s also testing leadership’s commitment to their own personal and their organization’s growth. Because at the end of the day, most leaders have the potential to adjust and grow – but they’re having difficulty accessing and developing the necessary skills. 

 A term many use to describe today’s work environment is VUCA  ( volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity). Surprisingly, this is a concept developed in the mid-1980s. I have to say it seems so much more applicable today than it did then.

Think about what executive leaders are being confronted with right now, all at the same time:

  1. Upward pressure on employee compensation. Who saw this coming 12 months ago?
    • Then: 18 months ago,  loss of 17+ million and dramatic economic decline
    • Today: highest number of open positions on record and booming segments of the economy..
  2. Changes in worker expectations and values, many of which vary across generations
    • Re-assessment of lives, how time is spent, what matters most, how to cope with stress…many of these are existential questions we’re all observing and exploring. And for many, these thoughts are not always welcoming or comforting. We’re all searching for new ways to cope.
  3. Changes in the way we work, with marked differences on how people are responding. Some people may prefer to work from home, with fewer distractions, more time for deliberate thinking and greater flexibility for their family lives. Others miss the social interaction and the spontaneity of beneficial in-person conversations. The truth is, both working from home alone or together in the same location have their advantages, depending on the purpose of the work.
      • But let’s be clear, Covid has created social distance, within teams and between teams at a time when collaboration is table stakes for competing and innovating.
      • Work-from-home and online creates new stressors and demands new skills. Trust is harder to build, projects are harder to manage, communication is just more difficult


Listening to you David, all of this raises the bar for leadership and elevates the importance of continuous growth:

  • More difficult to keep employees focused on and organized around goals
  • VUCA is upending leader’s “inner lives”, causing negative emotional and behavioral chain reactions across the organization
  • Economic pressures from growing talent demands  

So David, in your view, what is “effective leadership?” 


Okay, so let’s come up with a working definition of effective leadership. As an organizational leader, what makes you effective, successful?

Well it really starts with the contributions a leader is expected to make to the organization. What’s unique about a leadership role (versus self-leadership) is you have a cadre of talent to help you succeed. So as a leader, you’re responsible for focusing talent on the goal you’ve been tasked to achieve.

But that sounds a little transactional. The question is, are you maximizing the contribution of each individual and the collective team you lead in pursuit of your goals and is your team’s performance sustainable?

Generally, an effective leader knows how to do these things well:

  1. An effective leader knows how to articulate a purpose or an aim that creates positive energy and some degree of excitement (and any other internal and external relationships). Remember, a leader’s enthusiasm will be contagious, as will indifference and apathy.
  2. An effective leader knows know how to foster a climate in which trust, information sharing, debate, healthy risk taking and learning are embraced and celebrated
  3. An effective leader knows their colleagues as individuals and supports their growth aspirations and quest for autonomy
  4. An effective leader shows up as themselves, with a positive presence, projecting authentic confidence, without wishing away and ignoring challenges, disappointments or personal hardship.

But learning the elements of a great leader is one thing. Being a successful leader and growing as a leader, however, is another. 

Anybody can become a better leader. That’s the great news. Through neuro-plasticity, we all have the opportunity to grow our leadership skills…and get better. But this won’t happen unless we commit to this purpose – taking on the responsibility to maximize the contribution of each person on our team and the collective contribution to meet our organizational goals and responsibilities.


So let’s get back the theme of this episode: the talent drain and leadership


Yes, Rob, this all brings us back to our main theme: the significant linkage between talent retention and leadership growth. That means becoming the leader that people want to work with and follow. 

And leadership growth really starts with building awareness: 

  • Awareness of yourself;
  • Awareness of the people you work with; and
  • At a more strategic level, awareness of your broad “ecosystem.” 

Daniel Goleman, an emotional intelligence pioneer, suggests lumping this all together and labeling it FOCUS. 

Let’s explore each of these three dimensions of FOCUS.

  • Focus on awareness of yourself
    • Your mood, also known as your “affect” and behavior create chain reactions across your organization. Expressions of anger, frustration, pessimism, disinterest all spillover and affect others you work with. That is not to say you can only have positive emotions or feelings. Not at all. It means, however, that leadership starts with managing your inner life; how you self-regulate your distractions that cause negative, distracting emotions, so you can recover quickly and move forward positively. So you need to ask yourself:
      • How do you show up with your people? 
      • How do you share your emotions?
      • Are you bringing a positive presence?
      • Do you approach your team with appreciation inquiry when you provide essential feedback?
      • Is anything holding you back from being the leader you aspire to be?
  • Focus on others, or how you engage with others. We think of this as being empathic, cognitively and emotionally. 
    • People want to be seen and known. Have you gotten to know your people and are you displaying any empathic qualities? Do you know what motivates them? Do you know what they need from you?  
    • Have you built trusting relationships? Do they feel comfortable sharing their ideas and thoughts? 
    • How much autonomy or control do you give them? Do you have a sense of their skills, and what they do well and less well? How much direction do you give them? Have you found the right balance for each individual?
    • Have you taken the time to learn their professional growth goals? Do they feel you are enabling them to reach them? 
  • Focus on broad awareness of your ecosystem
    • An awareness of the external environment in which you operate. This typically will include the customers you serve, competitor activities, and emerging opportunities and risks.


We’ve talked about what great leadership is, why it’s so difficult today, and the importance of awareness and focus for leaders. 

Can you offer some advice on what organizations can do to retain more talent?


A commitment, a plan, and the implementation of a plan to grow your organization’s leadership skills will help you retain more talent. Full stop.

Retaining talent starts with your organization’s commitment to leadership growth and development. When you’re committed, you recognize the impact leadership competency has on your business results, the constant change your leaders are navigating through, the blind spots that limit their effectiveness, and the business value of ongoing support to maximize their leadership effectiveness. That times change and leadership behaviors need to evolve. And this means coming back to the essential dimensions of leadership that make others want to work with you and follow you. Here are some questions to think about:

  • Have you made clear what your organization’s purpose is? What is your aim, what values do you embrace? Does your behavior align?
  • Do your employees trust you, feel known, feel heard, feel valued?
  • How aware are you of how others perceive you, what your strengths and growth areas are?
  • Do you know your employees well enough, from a skill, motivation, and aspiration perspective, to judiciously delegate and assign activities and projects?
  • Do you have a leadership growth plan?
  • How are you adapting your leadership to real time changes e.g. no more in-person workplace? Do you understand how this affects trust?

So often, organizations explore coaching as a remedial action versus a proactive, continuous growth investment in their leaders. By this, we don’t mean 30-minute transactional coaching. We mean one-on-one leadership coaching, preferably Gestalt-infused —this is something that you should consider if you aim to grow as a leader and contribute to your potential. And if you lead a large organization, coaching is something you should really implement to support the leadership your business depends on for sustainable performance. Otherwise, your competitors who do will outperform you.

If you want to explore how leadership coaching can support your organization’s growth and performance, text me [617-529-8795], send us an email [] or visit

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