What's on our mind

What Teams Want From Their Leaders Now

By Jay Fehnel for Johan Advisors

In my work as an executive coach, I see multiple perspectives on how well leaders are serving their teams and how they could improve.  These views come from the feedback I gather from my clients’ direct reports -- and from my clients sharing what they want more of from their own boss.

Across many industries and org-chart levels, these are the top four things that people want more of from their leaders now:

1. Context - Too many teams feel that they are lacking some form of big-picture perspective they need to do their job well and feel great about it.  The type of context they’re looking for ranges from factual to strategic to emotional.

Some teams want a better understanding of industry dynamics, corporate politics, board decision-making processes or budget constraints.  Some teams want a clear statement of corporate strategy. Others want a better sense of their “Why” -- an understanding of how the company or team is contributing to a greater good, such as making the world a better place or providing dignity and quality to each customer.

Any leader can state facts and hand out assignments.  Great leaders provide the context that helps team members understand not just what to do, but why it’s important, what it’s going to take, and how their contribution relates to achieving larger goals.

2. Clarity - Given the pace of work and the deluge of information and data today, it’s no surprise that teams want to know what their leader wants most from them and what success looks like.

In too many situations, activity serves as a poor substitute for meaningful progress. This is often because team members don’t have a clear sense of what work matters most, who’s responsible and how success will be measured.

When a team is overwhelmed or under-performing, the most common cause is the lack of focused, realistic priorities and a clear goal.

3. Encouragement - This is something we all love to receive ourselves, but often forget to give. There are countless ways a leader can encourage their team members: by noticing great work and positive trends; by pointing out strengths that are often taken for granted; by expressing confidence and setting the bar higher; or simply by helping others focus on what’s going right.

Encouragement doesn’t have to mean handing out fake praise or “participation trophies”. It means taking time to genuinely recognize the contributions and potential in others, leaving them feeling appreciated and supported.

On a personal note, providing encouragement is one of the unexpected joys I’ve experienced as a coach. In my previous life as a business leader, I thought a key component of leadership was judging my team and my colleagues. I realize now how many opportunities I missed to encourage my colleagues because I was so busy evaluating them.

4. Development -  All of us want to feel a greater sense of opportunity and possibility at work. This starts with the team member and their leader getting clear on the team member’s strengths and potential. It’s not unusual for me to encounter senior-level clients who struggle to confidently name even five professional strengths. Help your teammates build a foundation for professional growth by helping them see what makes them unique and powerful.

Next, give your teammates multiple opportunities to develop, showcase and supplement those strengths. Development opportunities can take many forms: special projects, professional development courses, cross-functional responsibilities, opportunities to attend or present at different meetings, or help developing a plan for higher-level networking.

Providing greater development opportunities may be the simplest win-win proposition ever. The employee feels valued and challenged; the leader gets to see just how good their employee’s best can be.

Delivering on these four needs requires leaders who are willing to invest time in deeper appreciation -- of their team members’ most-important needs, contributions and potential.


To help raise awareness of these four fundamental leadership needs, please share this article, so others can be more aware and reflect on their own approach. Thanks.

(Jay Fehnel is an executive coach and strategy advisor for C-suite leaders, senior management teams and their high-potential successors. He helps executives define and achieve their professional and personal growth goals. Jay is principal and owner of Johan Advisors.)

Jay Fehnel