Happy, engaged employees.

Does your credit union serve the leadership development needs of its employees? Talented people are on the move, and like members, they have options. A recent Gallup survey reported 51% of employees questioned said they are either actively looking for a new job or watching for openings to seek career growth opportunities. Almost two-thirds believe they will likely find a job as good as their current one. Moreover, 90% of job-changers move to a new company. In this environment, a true test of leadership strength is retaining and attracting the talent you need. It increases engagement and helps employees bring their creativity and passion to work to execute on clear strategic plans with mission-driven values.

Executive leadership is critical to establishing and maintaining an engaged culture. Gallup found that leadership accounts for 70% of the variance in team engagement. Leadership is significantly more important than workplace perks. Smart leaders know that people want clarity in their job responsibilities and awareness of how they add value. They want to know they are valued and providing value. Employees need a sense of purpose. A culture of continual learning engages employees by supporting skill development and fostering new opportunities. Meaningful feedback is regular, building on employee strengths rather than deficiencies.

A leader’s approach to feedback matters in the engagement, retention and attraction of talent. Success-based feedback conversations engage employees, while deficiency-based feedback leads to the opposite result. Psychological studies show it’s counterproductive to focus on inadequacies. This triggers the “fight or flight” neurological mechanism, which shuts down learning. On the other hand, success-focused feedback results in a neurological response of relaxation that is associated with learning. People view the leader as someone who cares about their growth. When an area needs strengthening or a behavior should be changed, they work together to develop a vision for the future that incorporates the changed behavior and supports professional growth.

Leaders must ask themselves if they are overly focused on an “A-team” at the expense of others. Although attracting and developing top talent is a must for any organization, an undue focus on an “A-team” can miss potential in the rest of the organization’s employees who play important roles. Numerous studies, including Google’s project Aristotle, confirmed that in a highly functioning team, there is a sense of balance within the group. Leaders ensure that no one member dominates, each person feels safe expressing their ideas, and everyone is heard and valued.

Smart leaders are aware of how well a position fits an employee’s strengths and interests. People do their best work when the job description is clear and the fit is good. Still, only about 40% of workers strongly agree that their job description aligns well with their work. Clarity about job responsibilities is needed for accountability, and job alignment with the person’s skills and passions produces high levels of engagement.

Leaders must be alert to unconscious biases that limit their effectiveness and lessen engagement. Diversity of thought, background and experience provides better organizational results. But, in hiring and selecting a team, leaders tend to want those most like themselves. Or, when considering people to assume leadership roles, women and under-represented minorities may be viewed as “not ready” because they don’t fit leadership’s stereotypes.

Some employees can be their own worst critics and may be afraid to step up without being invited to do so. Good leadership helps employees rise to the occasion, acknowledging their strengths, and helping them build confidence and trust in their abilities.

A regular rhythm to leadership feedback conversations fosters engagement. The most engaged employees have a meaningful interaction with leadership at least once a week. These can be quick 10 to 30-minute talks that acknowledge what is going well, and where the employee and leader can brainstorm new ways to face challenges and build upon successes. Good leaders acknowledge employee successes and achievement on the spot. These immediate conversations serve to propel further success and build confidence. It’s both uplifting for the employee and the leader. Take advantage of these opportunities to strengthen engagement, retention and business results.

Stuart Levine

Stuart R. Levine is Chairman and CEO of Stuart Levine & Associates LLC and EduLeader LLC. He can be reached at 516-465-0800 or slevine@stuartlevine.com.