These days, there’s lots of talk about the plight of a generation filled with hungry souls looking for purpose in life. Many find themselves feeling restless in their current roles, or searching endlessly for the ideal career path.

Although most of us must work to pay our way in the world, I think the mission is larger than just finding a great job. It’s also about finding strong role models.

Do You Give Employees A Reason To Stay?

When we’re kids, serendipity “assigns” the leaders in our lives. Our parents, our teachers, our coaches. We don’t pick these people, but they have a huge influence on how we develop and how we come to view ourselves. They can encourage and inspire us to stretch and grow; or they can stifle us, bully us and crush our spirits.

Those early experiences have a profound impact on us — but how do they carry over into careers?

Here’s a theory: Perhaps once we’re thrust into “the rest of our lives,” we’re on a mission to reconnect with the types of leaders we remember most fondly from our youth. It’s impossible to forget those who lit a fire in our hearts and under our butts — the ones who had confidence in us and challenged us to stretch and grow. We trust those types of leaders to guide us. They’re the ones in whom we want to invest both our loyalty and our time.

What should workplace decision makers learn from this? If you’re building a company, keeping the best people on your team is not just about salaries, perks and benefits. What you bring to the table as a leader matters just as much — if not more — to the overall happiness and commitment of your employees.

Looking Back: Survey Says…

Leigh Branham, author of 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave analyzed over 20,000 anonymous surveys asking employees why they left their last job. Although most managers believe pay is the primary reason people quit, Branham discovered that the number one reason actually is “loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.”

The second reason? “Feeling undervalued in recognition, reward and pay.” Even though pay is included in that reason, it can be said that both loss of confidence and feeling that your work efforts are overlooked are actually leadership issues. “Undervalued” in this sense has little to do with money.

Some people might consider a new job at a different company because the pay is higher. However, the true seed of restlessness and dissatisfaction can be traced back to a disconnect between employee and employer.

Loyalty Breeds Loyalty

If employees quit leaders, not companies, then how can employers stem the tide? It starts with leaders who understand that to get loyalty from others, you must first give it. Leaders who take the initiative in demonstrating commitment to their teams are far more successful in gaining commitment in return.

Jo Romano, a work and life coach, suggests some simple ways for employers to demonstrate loyalty. These are our four favorites:

1) Clarify your values and goals, and encourage open dialogue with employees to be sure everyone is on the same page.

2) Trust your employees with important company information. An open door approach helps employees feel empowered and part of something bigger than just their immediate responsibilities.

3) Encourage growth opportunities by allowing employees to further their formal education or seek advice from other leaders, managers and supervisors. This shows them you’re secure in your role as leader and are invested in their professional growth.

4) Be sensitive to work/life conflicts to demonstrate that you see employees as people, and not just “workers.” Kindness and respect invariably strengthens any relationship.

The 21st Century Leader

The fundamentals of great leadership are timeless (passionate, confident, well-spoken). However, we like to suggest a few additions to the leadership playbook.

As Todd Wilms noted recently in Forbes commentary, today’s leaders should be willing to fail, be vulnerable, and set better boundaries. What? Failure, vulnerability and saying “no”? At first glance, that sounds like a recipe for disaster. But let’s break it down:

1) See Success Through Failure. These days, the saying is fail and fail fast. Quite simply, it’s imperative to try, to DO, even if you don’t achieve the desired goal. And that’s the whole point, to try, to test, to experiment, to innovate, to push the envelope and perhaps to fail. Then learn, tweak, iterate and polish. A journey from idea to execution, rife with failure, is better than than paralysis. Leaders who embrace failure by carving a path through it can empower employees and remove fear from the equation.

2) Find Strength In Vulnerability. Actually, it’s not just about vulnerability. The goal is to expose your humanity by being authentic, accepting, present and useful. Author and executive, James A. Autry, says these 5 principles set the stage for a leader/employee dynamic that is more open and functional. Be real and be a resource. Open yourself up to employees and lead by example.

3) Just Say “No.” It’s simple and logical, but many fail to remember that when you try to do everything, you end up doing nothing. Or you end up doing everything, with mediocre results. A great leader is an editor. It’s not about being a jerk or someone that everyone fears. The point is to keep people focused and leveraged. The trick is to say “no” with such finesse that it sounds more like a favor than a dismissal. Too many “yes’s” and you become a pleaser. But thoughtful, appropriate “no’s” make you an effective leader.

Great Leaders Attract AND Retain

Building and running a company requires juggling many moving parts and pieces — you can’t do it all yourself. But no matter what service you’re providing or what product you’re building, don’t forget that YOU are one of the essential reasons your employees joined the company in the first place. Keep this in mind so those moving parts won’t include dissatisfied employees, high turnover and loss of essential talent.

Of course, sometimes losing a key player or two may be unavoidable. But if a pattern arises and you’re losing more employees than you’d like, and you’re unsure about why, it’s time to examine your approach to leadership. Taking conscious, deliberate steps to nurture your leadership skills and employer/employee dynamic is never a waste of time. In fact, it might make all the difference to to your organization’s long-term health and prosperity.

What’s fundamental leadership quality matters most to your organization? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

(Editor’s Note: To discuss World of Work topics like this with others in the TalentCulture community, join our online #TChat events every Wednesday, from 6:30-8pm ET. Everyone is welcome. Learn more...)

Image Credit: WarnerBros