Employee Retention & The 5 Pillars of Great Leadership

August 15, 2022
Employee Retention & The 5 Pillars of Great Leadership

It’s essential to acknowledge that employee engagement had flat-lined long before the global pandemic of 2020, and the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of massive turnover and the “Burnout Epidemic” more than 12 years ago! This did not come out of nowhere.

What do we know for sure? More than ever, employees want their work, at least one or more aspects of it anyway, to be meaningful.  At Brivia, we have learned that humans move to and are moved by meaning. We also know that leadership is one of the most important mechanisms for providing and facilitating a meaningful work experience. Full stop. It always has and always will. 

This is not a surprise; we have known this for years. So, let’s keep this super simple. 

Quality Leadership, Engagement, and Retention. 

The potential for managers to impact employee engagement is massive; Gallup has estimated, for years, that managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units. At Brivia, we believe managers’ impact on the employee experience is much higher than Gallup’s estimates. 

Our work at Brivia and my research in human services and corporate environments confirm that managers who provide a quality leadership experience are indeed the ones that have the most positive impact on the employee experience as meaningful and subsequently engagement, improved performance, retention, and all the other great things. 

Having spoken with over 50,000 people from more than 300 companies, I have learned that “Great Leaders” and “Great Leadership” is the primary factor in maximizing employee satisfaction, motivation, engagement, organizational commitment, performance, and desirable business outcomes. 

What We Know About Great Leadership

We have asked more than 10,000 corporate and human service employees and managers [across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia] to reflect on their own experiences with past managers. Everyone was encouraged to recount stories of when they had experienced “the greatest leadership ever” and to identify the actions, interactions, and qualities that made their experiences great.

Despite the vast diversity of meaningful leadership experiences recounted, there were common threads in how people define great leadership that was repeated time and again. These themes are foundational to all the stories we documented across all human services and business sectors worldwide. Because the stories are validated by the quality and effective leadership practice, wisdom, and research, we refer to them as pillars. 

Our work clarifies that meaningful leader-employee experiences lead not only to higher levels of motivation, engagement, and performance but also to individual and collective resilience.

The 5 Pillars were important before the 2020 COVID Crisis. They are essential now and are needed more than ever. 

The 5 Pillars of Great Leadership


Yes, love! Whether you refer to it as “care and concern” or love, every interviewee stated they felt genuinely cared for by their leader. It is not uncommon for people to characterize great leadership as exuding high levels of trust, respect, empathy, caring, compassion, tolerance, and patience.

Great leaders understand and prioritize maintaining strong interpersonal relationships as a major component of leader-member interaction. Great leaders protect their people, advocate for them, develop them, and place the needs of their teammates before their own.

Great leaders consistently honor and validate their employees’ dignity, integrity, and worth.


100% of the people who described a great leadership experience identified listening as one of the behaviors with the most positive and meaningful impact.

Instead of waiting to speak, listening is a critical skill that ensures people feel genuinely heard. Listening is also the most significant skill for understanding employees’ experiences. When great leaders listen with the intent to understand, their members feel valued and cared for.

Listening can have profound implications for all team members because it strengthens relationships and reinforces important values in operation. Listening conveys caring, compassion, patience, and tolerance. It also builds trust, demonstrates respect and integrity, and paves the way for empathy.

Great leaders understand the power of listening, which is why they listen more than speak. They also know that they are likely not learning when they are talking!


Research confirms what millions of employees already know: great leaders work hard to learn about the unique needs, values, goals, and strengths of their members. These qualities (which I refer to as CORE 4) are key sources of internal and external motivation for optimal engagement and performance.

Great leaders encourage employees to do what they are passionate about. This is only possible when leaders are in tune with what their employees desire, value, and hope to accomplish as they carry out their work. 

Great leaders understand and respond to their people’s needs and help them attain their goals. They view their team members as experts and place great value in the knowledge, experiences, and opinions they possess. Great leaders also learn about, build on, and leverage employee strengths. 


Great leadership isn’t easy, nor does it come without a certain amount of stress and a variety of challenges. However, great leaders can maintain a positive disposition in the face of stress, still know how to have fun, and show a good sense of humor.

Such leadership qualities are always important, especially when leaders work to alleviate the stress inherent in demanding working situations. Great leaders know that positivity, laughter, and fun make good days great and the worst days better.


Great leaders inspire their team members. To inspire others is to lead! People who recount their greatest leadership experiences talk (with smiles and energy, of course) about being excited, stimulated, “on fire,” and moved. They talk about times they would come in early, stay late, and help with almost anything (even projects outside their job description).

It is important to note that some of the people who remember being inspired were working in very challenging situations. For many employees, despite great adversity, it was their leader and the behaviors of their leader that contributed to what they would later refer to as the greatest time in their career!

Love, Listen, Learn, Laugh, and You Will Lead…and Engage!

Great leaders help employees feel valued and cared for. These leaders enable their employees to experience important values such as respect, empathy, trust, and integrity in operation. They allow them to work in positive and fun environments, feel safe to make mistakes, and take meaningful risks. When employees feel listened to, understood, and known, they experience their direct supervisor as not just a manager, but as a “Great Leader.”

A Simple Conclusion

Leaders have many opportunities to create and facilitate meaningful work experiences for their employees, regardless of the industry or the work environment. 

When combined with formal research, thousands of stories about great managers solidify what we all know to be true. They have experienced the unequivocal and inextricable link between great leadership and its positive and profound impact on employee engagement, performance, and retention. 


Take a moment to think about how you demonstrate the 5 Pillars of Great Leadership. What are you doing often? What is one thing you might consider doing differently?

If you would like to enhance your capacity as a leader to provide the 5 Pillars of Quality Leadership to improve employee and client outcomes, check out the following solutions:

Responsive Communication for Health and Human Service Leaders

CORE Communication for Leaders in Private Industry and Business

Stephen de Groot is President and Co-Founder of Brivia. He is author of Responsive Leadership (Sage Publication, 2016) and Chief Architect of The CORE Algorithm: A Dynamic Framework for Optimizing Human Potential, Performance and Perseverance.

Learn more about Stephen de Groot and his work.

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