What Do Employees Really Want in a Leader?

December 16, 2021・6 mins read
What Do Employees Really Want in a Leader?

It's no secret. Employee satisfaction is of paramount concern for most businesses. Every time an employee leaves, it costs, on average, one-half to two times the employee's annual salary. The most common reason employees leave their roles isn’t money or job title; it’s their manager or leader. 52% of voluntarily exiting employees say their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job. Bad bosses can make even the most loyal employees look for employment elsewhere. 57% of employees quit their jobs because of their boss, according to a study from Development Dimensions International (DDI). While most companies are concerned with retention and often have leadership development training available to their managers, it’s not always enough to make an impact. True leaders are rare, but they can be found or morphed into shape, so long as businesses understand what their employees truly want in a leader. This article will explain the characteristics employees want in their leaders, per Training Industry Magazine.

The makings of high quality leadership

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither does high-quality leadership. Leadership takes time to master, and even the most well-meaning managers can veer off course. Companies need to know what employees want from their leaders to help prevent toxic bosses and bridge the leadership quality gap. The best leaders have the perfect balance of communication, interpersonal, ethical, managerial, and strategic skills coupled with charismatic personalities, a coaching mentality, and a heavy dose of integrity to boot.

Communication skills

The ability to communicate effectively is an essential leadership skill, with 45% of survey respondents marking it as a desirable skill. However, communication is easier said than done. There are two parts to communication, with one being easier than the other: talking and listening. Clearly articulating what they want, need, and expect from direct reports is essential, giving clear instructions and resources for projects or processes is crucial, and providing constructive and actionable feedback is vital. Leaders spend much of their day communicating with people through email, phone calls, texts, online chats, and company intranets. Therefore, you can't overstate the importance of speaking and writing effectively. The second and more challenging component of communication is listening. Many managers struggle to hear what their employees have to say. However, true leaders engage in two-way dialogue and have open lines of communication with their employees.

Interpersonal skills

44% of people want their leaders to have interpersonal skills.

Over 44% of survey respondents indicated that they want their leaders to have interpersonal skills. Leaders with interpersonal skills build rapport and create emotional connections with others. They look people in the eyes when they are speaking, smile often, offer compassion to those struggling, remember people’s names and preferences, give positive verbal and written feedback, and are just plain pleasant to be around.

Values and ethics

Another quality employees look for in leaders is integrity. Nearly 42% of survey respondents indicated that they want their leaders to demonstrate strong values and uphold high ethical standards. Employees want to work for people who “do the right thing.” Leaders lead by example, upholding the company’s standards, abiding by laws and policies, and ensuring a safe and welcoming work environment for all.


An often-overlooked characteristic of a great leader is a great personality. While having relevant management skills on paper is excellent, a poor personality will quickly overshadow even the best resume. Over 30% of respondents indicated that a leader’s personal attributes are essential leadership characteristics. Personal attributes like passion, commitment, flexibility, optimism, and accountability were listed as the top traits of an effective leader.

Coaching and feedback

Coaching is all about helping employees hone their talents and skills while driving results for the organization. Bad bosses care solely about the end game, while leaders help employees train and perfect their skills for success. Nearly 22% of survey respondents wanted their leaders to be able to coach and develop others effectively. Employees want to work with someone that:

  • Offers constructive feedback
  • Helps them find solutions
  • Offers professional development opportunities
  • Provides the resources they need to excel in their role

Credibility as a leader

Credibility in leadership is represented by a manager who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. There is truly nothing more frustrating than having a manager with zero experience in the industry or the job role they are managing. For example, a sales manager with no sales experience has no credibility, and their feedback will fall on deaf ears. A leader with a high degree of competence, expertise, and experience is vital to people. Employees want to feel confident that their leader knows how to do the job, has the skills necessary to lead the team effectively, and generates desired results. "creative agency business brain storm meeting presentation Team discussing roadmap to product launch, presentation, planning, strategy, new business development sit on floor" width="790" height="446">

Direction and strategy

No one wants to work for a boss that has no direction or goals for the team or organization as a whole. People want to work for leaders that motivate, inspire, and put a fire under them to push harder. The best leaders have big plans with big goals to match. They also have the ability to excite others about their plans and objectives, keeping them engaged and focused on the finish line.

Managerial skills

Unsurprisingly, just 5.6% of survey respondents indicated that fundamental management skills were important to them in a leader. Possessing the fundamentals of management like planning, organizing, delegating, and staffing is not as important as having other soft skills like communication, coaching, and inspiration.

Only 5.6% of respondents think fundamental management skills are important in a leader.

True natural born leaders are rare, but businesses shouldn’t despair as many of the leadership qualities employees look for can be taught. Leadership training is a critical piece of running a successful organization. With data about what workers want from their leaders, companies can create relevant courses and modules that tackle critical areas of:

  • Communication
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Integrity
  • Mentoring
  • Strategy
  • Managerial skills

Gathering feedback from employees and measuring specific metrics like retention rates can also help organizations ensure that their leaders are thriving in their roles.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance.

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