Leaders: 3 ways to develop loyalty with your team members

by max kozinn - career & talent development manager at the university of texas at austin | April 18, 2019

The war for talent is real. Leaders often share with me there is a major challenge of retaining team members. They say, "I am frustrated my employees are not more loyal to us and are leaving for other opportunities."

If you are a leader reading this, who identifies with the above quote, open up your music app, search “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson, and listen!

"I'm starting with the man in the mirror

I'm asking him to change his ways

And no message could have been any clearer

If you wanna make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself and then make a change." -Michael Jackson

These lyrics provide quite the leadership lesson. Here is a reality check. You think your employees are not loyal enough? It may not be them. It starts with YOU!

A recent article from Inc.com focusing on survey research on why employees leave jobs, boiled it down to one simple reason: employees leave because they feel disrespected.

So then the question for all of us: Is the source of turnover at my company a lack of loyalty or do my employees feel disrespected? What came first? The chicken or the egg?

It may be your first instinct to point out your employee’s lack of loyalty, but hold up!

Look in the mirror first!

Ask yourself, “What makes people on my team feel this way? What can my team and I do differently to make people WANT to stay? Is it possible I disrespected them?” Guess what? It is VERY possible.

Organizations love to preach about their core values, having a "family" culture, and share that they value feedback. But when someone leaves for another opportunity, leaders often immediately blame the employee's lack of loyalty as the problem. Sure, it had nothing to do with the leader right?

Funny, most leaders seemingly have no problem calling feedback from customers "a gift" and seeking to understand from the customer why they are taking their business elsewhere. But, when an employee votes with their feet and exits the company, many leaders fail to ask or listen and actually LEARN from that experience.

The reality is leaders must STOP EXPECTING loyalty and START EARNING it!

There is no foolproof method of preventing employees from leaving. Also, sometimes the employee is just not a fit. But, there are some simple ways to EARN respect and loyalty, and reduce the risk of employee flight from feeling disrespected. There are certainly more, but here are 3 big ones:

1. Be vulnerable and seek feedback: As a leader, you must be open to feedback on anything. You don’t have all the answers and if you portray you do to your people, they won’t follow you. True leadership is built on seeking feedback from others that help you grow and lead better. So ask for it! Ask for it on projects, communication, culture, training, systems, processes, everything! Create and foster a culture of openness and transparency wherever possible.

2. Practice what you preach: You have core values and a mission statement. Awesome! But are your leaders living this mission and making decisions/taking action in alignment with these? If your leaders aren’t, don’t expect employees to buy in and hang around to see when you will start doing so. Rather, TRULY and INTENTLY make these part of your culture… every day. Follow #1 and seek feedback from team members on how well you are practicing what you preach as well.

3. Know your people: How well do you REALLY know your employees? Do you know their wants, dreams, desires, family? Did you learn about what motivates them during their onboarding or do you talk about that often? Do you know what they are “playing” for? If you don’t have a great answer for these, it will be difficult to have an authentic and loyal relationship. Take your employees out of the office and get to know them. Take them to lunch or coffee regularly! Follow #1 and have frequent conversations (not just one on ones or performance reviews) to take their temperature about how they are feeling or what feedback they have for you. Take an interest in them as people, and they are less likely to tell you or others they feel disrespected while turning in their notice.

If an employee departs for a new opportunity:

1. Thank them: Regardless of how they left or how long they were with the company, why wouldn’t you want to thank someone for their service? Speak from the heart and tell them what you love about them and what you will miss about them. Regardless of how they feel about the company or you, they will be grateful you did and probably share it with others.

2. Have an exit feedback session: No, it is NOT an exit interview. This is your opportunity to get REAL feedback from a team member, who has nothing to lose by sharing it all with you. Don’t you want to know? Ask, “What could we have done to keep you?” Ask, “What could be better at work?” And YES! Ask them, “Where can I improve as a leader? This might be the most honest and best feedback you'll ever receive!

For those striving to become leaders, be the example of respect and share feedback with your leadership team.

At the end of the day, we can’t keep everyone happy on our teams. Some turnover is inevitable. But we can give ourselves the best chance. It amazes me how often leaders refuse to take accountability. They dismiss the opportunity to do more, give more, and share more. This contributes to a feeling of disrespect among their employees and often their exit.

In sum, let’s all do our best to STOP EXPECTING loyalty and START EARNING it. Let’s get back to making our world a better place!


Max Kozinn is a 10+ year sports industry executive and has worked at some of the biggest brands such as the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, and San Antonio Spurs. He's currently the Career & Talent Development Consultant at UT Austin and has a passion to give back and develop the next generation of young sports and business professionals. You can learn more about Max by visiting his LinkedIN profile here