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Updated Apr 10, 2024

Here’s What Employees Actually Want From a Leader

Cultivate the skills and qualities needed to ensure employee trust and commitment.

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Julie Thompson, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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Excellent leadership can take an organization to the next level while ensuring employee loyalty, teamwork and an overarching commitment to shared goals. While leadership styles differ and personality plays a role, you can cultivate specific traits and skills to become the kind of leader your employees respond to. 

We’ll explore five traits employees prefer in their leaders and share the behaviors and tendencies to avoid at all costs if you want to maintain employee respect.

What employees want from a leader

The Training Industry interviewed thousands of professionals in various industries, including manufacturing, entertainment, pharmaceutical, hospitality, transportation and government, and asked them to list the qualities they wanted in a leader. Excellent communication skills and interpersonal skills were highly valued. Additionally, the survey found that people respond to integrity, follow-through, good listening skills and the ability to make employees feel valued. 

Here’s a breakdown of five traits people want from their leaders and tips on cultivating these qualities. 

1. Employees want leaders who are excellent communicators.

graphic of two colleagues talking

Communication is a cornerstone of inspirational leadership. Excellent communication makes your employees’ jobs easier by setting clear expectations and parameters. The good news is that anyone can improve their communication skills with a little effort. 

Here are some tips for becoming a better communicator: 

  • Become more self-aware. First, reflect on your own qualities. Try to pinpoint your communication shortcomings and bad habits. Once you understand your communication challenges, you can work to improve your communication skills. 
  • Get feedback on your communication habits. Enlist the help of trusted advisors, mentors and colleagues to help you identify where your communication skills can improve. For example, are your memos frequently ignored? Ask someone you trust if your written communication skills are lacking. Do employees frequently miss deadlines? Determine if your instructions could be clearer.
  • Focus on two-way communication. Employee respect is critical — and one-sided communication is not the way to earn that respect. Make sure you’re fully communicating with your employees, not just imparting information.
TipBottom line
Effective communicators go beyond words to focus on their unspoken signals and body language. They avoid nonverbal cues that make them seem nervous, imposing, uninterested and inattentive.

2. Employees want to feel heard by their leaders.

As you improve your communication skills, you can become the type of leader who helps employees feel heard. This can result in a stronger company culture with deeper loyalty and improved teamwork

Employees who feel heard — and seen — are more likely to stick around during tough times, improving your employee retention rates. In contrast, employees who feel invisible and unimportant will have less loyalty and are more likely to leave.

Listening has benefits beyond employee retention and satisfaction. Leaders who listen can glean essential insights from their employees’ diverse voices and opinions, making them more likely to discover innovative solutions and opportunities.

Here are a few ways to hone your listening skills and help your employees feel truly heard: 

  • Understand your listening habits. Develop a keen awareness of your listening habits and practice behaviors to improve them. For example, do you interrupt your employees when they speak? Do you steamroll past topics you don’t want to discuss? Again, rely on your network of trusted advisors and mentors to help identify how to improve your listening skills.
  • Quiet your inner dialogue. Ensure you’re fully present when someone is speaking. To quiet your inner dialogue and be a better listener, schedule time early in the day to reflect and get your thoughts down on paper. Brainstorm solutions and write notes about next steps. You’ll get significant topics off your mind, enabling you to dedicate your time and energy to listening to your employees’ needs.
  • Focus on respecting people’s time. It’s also crucial to develop an awareness of and respect for everyone’s time — yours included. If a conversation wanders off-topic, bring it back to the subject at hand. Set limits on topics and time to show your team that you respect their time and input. This habit also helps keep your schedule in check and sets an excellent example for your team.
Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Inspirational leaders cultivate a growth mindset. They see limitless potential in the organization and their teams and inspire everyone to tackle challenges and move forward.

3. Employees want leaders with integrity.

graphic of two colleagues shaking hands

Integrity is a gateway to trust, respect and inspiration. Doing the right thing because it’s the right thing will earn your employees’ respect and set a fantastic example for them to follow.

In today’s work environment, employees can sniff out untruths and fluff. If you lie to, coddle or tell half-truths to your workforce, you’ll likely do irreparable damage to your reputation as a leader and your company’s brand as a whole.

Here are several ways to cultivate integrity:

  • Do the right thing.
  • Tell the truth, even when it’s not pretty. 
  • Admit when you’re wrong. 
  • Open up about your vulnerabilities. 

Everyone’s human, and we all make mistakes. A leader with integrity is honest and relatable — and doesn’t have to be perfect. 

4. Employees want leaders who follow through.

Excellent people management requires following through on commitments. By making and keeping promises, you demonstrate your reliability and set a great example for your team.

Failing to follow through on a commitment can be as damaging as telling an outright lie. Once you demonstrate that you only pay lip service to something, you may spend years regaining that lost respect and trust. Following through on your commitments fosters an environment of respect and value that spreads throughout an organization. 

5. Employees want to feel valued by their leaders.

Great leaders give credit where it’s due. Not every great idea comes from the C-suite, and business success is a collective effort. Ensure your employees get the accolades they deserve to create an environment where people feel valued for their opinions, thoughts and ideas.

Leaders who highlight their team’s successes will be rewarded with their employees’ respect and admiration. By recognizing their teams’ achievements, these influential leaders encourage healthy competition and collaboration among team members. 

TipBottom line
If you're managing employees remotely, helping them feel valued can be a challenge. Committing to regular virtual check-ins is essential, as is setting up your remote teams with excellent collaboration and communication tools.

What employees don’t want from a leader 

Employees need leaders they can admire and feel comfortable communicating with. To be the best leader possible, you must continuously improve your professional and people skills and avoid the behaviors that drive employees away. Here are the top behaviors to avoid when working on your leadership goals.

1. Avoid giving feedback with no ROI.

graphic of a person holding onto a large yellow flag

Feedback can easily hit a shallow point in the business world. Your best employees know they’re good at their jobs, and lackluster employees think they’re doing enough to survive. Standard performance management practices often fall short.

If you want your employees to benefit from feedback, consider expanding their mindset from day-to-day tasks to long-term goals. For example, a great customer service agent may hit daily number goals, but are they polite? Do they foster loyal customers?

Feedback sessions should be an opportunity to learn more about your team. Ask them about their long-term career goals and how you can help them get there. Building relationships can help you have challenging conversations and encourage employees to come to you when they’re struggling or feeling underappreciated. 

Did You Know?Did you know
Don't limit employee feedback to a yearly one-on-one evaluation. Get in the habit of giving informal feedback consistently and scheduling stay interviews.

2. Never ignore employee issues.

Teams often have weak links. For example, some employees have workplace absenteeism issues, habitually show up late, or fail to turn in paperwork on time. Unfortunately, these employees tend to get away with their behavior.

Instead of confronting problematic employees, bosses sometimes take the easy way out and ignore the issue. They may think having a weak link is better than going through the replacement process. 

However, this sentiment is short-sighted. Every employee must be held to the same standards to avoid a toxic work culture, productivity losses and accusations of workplace favoritism. 

3. Don’t micromanage your team. 

graphic of a person viewing smaller people under a magnifying glass

A micromanager takes an already complex project and turns it into chaos. Refusal to delegate tasks can stifle employee growth and make it impossible to reach goals.

Excellent leaders foster a culture of empowered employees. Employees must feel ownership over their work and maintain control to produce creative ideas and remain productive. Trust your team to use their strengths to accomplish a project everyone can be proud of.

Be clear about everyone’s responsibilities. Once you step back, the team might exceed your expectations.

4. Don’t be disrespectful to your team.

Making your way to the top takes work. But once you’re there, you can’t do your job alone. Treating every team member with respect and empathy is crucial. 

Participating in unprofessional behavior, such as gossiping, boasting about your pay, or making your employees feel guilty about putting family before work can quickly become bad boss behavior.

5. Disorganization can diminish your team’s respect.

Bosses are held to a higher standard than their team. They’re responsible for organizing workers and managing projects. Unfortunately, some bosses have messy desk syndrome, are frequently late, or lose track of essential documents.

Leaders must take time for self-care and focus on personal and business organization. Bosses don’t have to be perfect. However, their teams should see them as prepared, on task and in touch.

Angela Koch contributed to this article.

author image
Julie Thompson, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
With nearly two decades of experience under her belt, Julie Thompson is a seasoned B2B professional dedicated to enhancing business performance through strategic sales, marketing and operational initiatives. Her extensive portfolio boasts achievements in crafting brand standards, devising innovative marketing strategies, driving successful email campaigns and orchestrating impactful media outreach. Thompson's proficiency extends to Salesforce administration, database management and lead generation, reflecting her versatile skill set and hands-on approach to business enhancement. Through easily digestible guides, she demystifies complex topics such as SaaS technology, finance trends, HR practices and effective marketing and branding strategies. Moreover, Thompson's commitment to fostering global entrepreneurship is evident through her contributions to Kiva, an organization dedicated to supporting small businesses in underserved communities worldwide.
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