The Great Resignation: What’s leadership got to do with it?

person standing near the stairs

In October 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in August. This record-breaking month topped a series of previous record-breaking months. Almost all industries are experiencing this exodus.

Achievers and the Mental Health Association report that more than half of employees in the United States planned to look for a new job in 2021 – up 35% from 2020. That is staggering, considering the costs of replacing and retraining.

This NPR article presents some decent theories behind why “The Great Resignation” is happening – from  pay to new perspectives about life. Without a doubt, burnout is one of the leading reasons cited for a new job search. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report, nearly 83% of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work, and nearly one in four employees experienced more severe signs of burnout including reduced productivity and cynicism towards coworkers and their jobs.

Another 2021 report stated: “60% of leaders reported feeling worn out at the end of each day, which can be an indication of burnout.” And with higher levels of leadership comes more stress and greater risk of burnout: “86% of those with high potential for leadership felt exhausted by the end of the day, an increase of 27% over the previous year.”

Burnout can lead to exits. One recent survey found that 44% of leaders who feel worn out and used up planned to move to a new company in order to advance their careers. 26% of those same respondents plan to leave their current company within the next year.

Yet 52% of employees who left their company believed that their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving. It’s time to arm leaders with the tools and skills they need to understand how to refresh and renew their teams so that everyone can finish well.

Turning the Tide of High Turnover

Some may assume that increasing pay or distributing bonuses will alleviate burnout, but over the long term, only a small percentage of the workforce is motivated by a financial increase. For the remainder, it won’t make a lasting difference.

The bottom line is that everything rises and falls on leadership. To alleviate employee burnout, leaders must address its root causes.

While each employee may contribute to their own burnout it is still up to their leader to tune in with them regularly. If the signs of burnout are not addressed openly, the leader must know how to effectively encourage the employee to open up and share what they are really experiencing. Knowing how to unlock their inner thoughts, feelings, habits, and experiences enables leaders to best determine what will alleviate burnout for each individual.

This is where a proven leadership development program becomes crucial. Leaders can uncover the deep, underlying issues of their employees only if they have the right skills. These skills are not innate and therefore must be learned.

Investment in Leadership is Critical

Let’s break down what leaders gain through a leadership development program that can help turn around turnover, at all levels of the organization.

1. Established baselines and desired state.

To determine where they are and where they want to be in terms of employee satisfaction and other key parameters, teams must start by assessing themselves and their company in the areas of culture and leadership competencies.


Culture is critical. A highly effective leadership development program starts with a series of meetings to develop a collective understanding of existing company culture, norms, and desired outcomes. As it progresses, the program continuously uncovers and incorporates additional information.

Determining how the existing culture differs from what the company aspires to is a key element in improving employee acquisition and retention. In cases of high turnover, for example, the current culture may not allow employees to feel safe about making mistakes, sharing their feelings of dissatisfaction, or institutional scorekeeping on past performance.

Leadership Competencies

Effective leadership development programs involve 360-degree leadership assessments that uncover both behavioral blind spots and the degree to which leadership competencies are being achieved. Using a set of leadership competencies as a compass, each leader can work from specific expectations. To enhance employee satisfaction and retention, these expectations should always include an assessment of their success at developing their team members. This enables exponential growth and implementation.

2. Leadership impact on day-to-day realities.

After the baseline is established on both team and individual levels, one-on-one coaching helps leaders address their individual experiences and blind spots. They are provided with tools to change the current trouble spots they are facing and taught skills to help them coach their own team members, which can reduce workplace stress levels and turnover.


One-on-one coaching with a single executive, or with each member of an entire senior leadership team, enables leaders to express and work through their specific views and potential barriers. An effective leadership development program will point out the behavioral pattern they are stuck in and help them change to incorporate winning strategies for everyone on their team.

3. Transformation of the entire organization.

As leaders develop their leadership skills, they alleviate their own potential burnout by boosting their engagement and prospects for advancement, while doing the same for subordinates. When the leader can uncover the motivations, core values, and tendencies of their team members, they can be far more effective in transforming burnout to fulfillment across the organization. By addressing and improving team dynamics, team training takes the positive impact even farther – transforming fulfillment to growth.

Teaching Leaders Coaching Skills

To radiate impact throughout the organization, leaders must be taught how to become a coach themselves. In the context of employee satisfaction and retention, it is crucial that they determine exactly what employees are experiencing daily. Leaders should engage their team members in a detailed conversation about their daily activities, asking to walk through their workday, step by step, and to describe what their toughest days are like. Having a true, open, and authentic understanding of employees is the first step toward alleviating burnout.

Team Dynamics

Each person is a unique individual with a distinct set of filters and experiences, creating a unique set of circumstances that cause burnout. The most effective approach to leadership development addresses individual behaviors and how they feed into collective dynamics. Mapping out each person’s unique tendencies, motivations, triggers, and core values enables teams to align and synergistically navigate through issues and initiatives. While observing team dynamics, skilled coaches can reveal eye-opening moments in which teams are able to gain a deeper understanding of past interactions and actively shift behaviors to make rapid improvements in cooperation, which can redirect the entire organization.

Build a More Resilient Organization

The payoff is huge; when leaders use successful coaching models, accurately interpret words and behavior, and put this insight into action, burnout drops to almost nothing—for themselves and employees. This provides growth and advancement opportunities for the leader as well as subordinates, increasing workforce satisfaction on all levels. When leaders successfully expand their own skills and that of their subordinates, they more readily move up in the company. Their leadership bench is equipped to backfill open positions, providing multiple layers of growth within the organization.

This three-step approach to leadership development is crucial to an organization’s survival and success at navigating The Great Resignation. Each step is necessary and works synergistically with the others to address the formidable issue of employee burnout and turnaround. Velocity’s comprehensive Leadership Development Program incorporates all three of these steps to advance leadership to an elite level. Power Pathways™ principles of behavioral neuroscience and Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) help identify and change ineffective behavioral patterns, then enhance patterns in the unconscious mind that underpin elevated performance. Let’s talk about how the Velocity Leadership Development Program can help your company survive and thrive through the most pressing challenges facing businesses today.