What People Really Want from Bosses

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.

Talent today are stressed, highly disengaged, ready to leave organizations when the economy improves and doing less work with more resources

For example, a late 2010 Careerbuilder.com survey (2,700 employers and 4,800 workers) found:

  • Work/Life Balance and Stress–Just about one quarter (22.0%) reported being stretched and dissatisfied with the lack of work/life balance
  • Compensation–almost a third of all employees (32%) were frustrated with their pay/compensation
  • Career Progression/Advancement–More than a quarter (27%) were dissatisfied with opportunities for upward mobility compared to 24% last year

A survey by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), has confirmed what other surveys have found that that high-potential employees are increasingly disengaged and looking for new career opportunities. Their findings suggest that 25% or more plan to leave their current employers in the next year compared to only 10% in 2006.

More disturbing was that 21% identified themselves as “highly disengaged” which was 3 times more than what was reported in 2007.

Maybe there is a disconnect between what talent are looking for from their leaders and what bosses today think they are doing to keep high performing and high potential talent engaged.

We were interested in mining some data from our own management 360 assessment called Manager View 360 (MV360) and analyzed a random sample of leaders (over 2,500) from diverse industries to compare self-perceptions of strengths with those from direct reports of these leaders. Analysis of this data allows us to at least compare what managers think they are doing behaviorally compared to how their own bosses and direct reports are experiencing them. Any “gaps” might be interpreted as an indicator of what leaders may need to do more frequently or more effectively to meet the needs of those direct reports providing feedback.


We did a comparison of how leaders in managerial positions rated their own strengths and development areas and compared these to how their own bosses and direct reports experienced them. Some interesting conclusions we see.

1. Strengths: Managers seem to feel they create a climate where talent are informed, feel comfortable to share their feelings, develop their teams and are decisive. In general, their bosses agree.

Direct reports in our sample (8,000+) seem to experience leadership above them as pretty strong in various aspects of communication, making quick and firm decisions and effectively delegating.

2. Development Areas: The biggest self-reported are of development for leaders was performance management, holding talent accountable, following up on poor performance and making sure a clear “line of sight” existed between performance goals and evaluating progress. This task orientation was clear with only one interpersonal skills perceived to be lacking by managers–active listening.

Again, bosses of these leaders seemed to also see these same weaknesses–perhaps because they also have a strong task orientation that sets a tone for most managers to follow.

Most interestingly, direct reports seemed to want more participative leadership from their managers. They viewed managers as not demonstrating the “transformational leadership” to resolve interpersonal differences, build a strong team, recognize and reward the efforts of talent working so hard and most importantly–not feeling involved in planning, decision making and problem solving processes that positively contribute towards engagement.

To win the talent war today it appears that managers should sharpen their skills around building high performance teams and increasing the use of participative leadership approaches.

Our data suggests that managers are acting as if they are leading in “white water environments” where decisive, authoritative and transactional approaches to leadership is what is required to facilitate performance and commitment to the discretionary effort required today to survive. However, talent seem to be asking for more involvement in the things they have control over and given the time they are putting in at work, to work on teams they value, enjoy and respect based on how they evaluate the actual practices and behaviors of their leaders.

What do you think talent want from leaders today to remain productive and engaged?”….Be well…