Polyvore CEO Jess Lee has a curious employee development and retention strategy: train them to run their own company. But wait, isn’t that a paradox? If leaders help team members think and operate like CEOs, won’t they leave the company? Shouldn’t upper management restrict employees’ ambition, for the sake of employee turnover?

Fast Company writer Sarah Lawson, in an interview with Lee, shuts down this criticism succinctly (emphasis mine):

One of the best examples I get of this is from my mentor, client and boss, Peter Diamandis. He’s always encouraging our small team to experiment and evaluate new business ideas -- for ourselves and for the team -- so that, if the experiments are successful, we can deploy additional resources to scale them in a big, powerful way. He’s said, more than once, that his goal is for our time with the PHD Ventures team to represent the turning point of our careers.

To that end, we each get valuable opportunities to accelerate our advancement. I’ve attended masterminds with other entrepreneurs, executive programs and multi-day workshops to sharpen my skills in designing experiences and tailoring content for Abundance 360. I’m so grateful for these opportunities for personal and professional growth, and I demonstrate this appreciation through continued accountability, high performance and, of course, loyalty.

We also use this approach at Ridiculously Efficient. After all, how can we help our community create their best lives if we aren’t leading by example? When I learn or develop a new framework, I teach it to my team and share any public-facing links or articles I can find on it.

This activity accomplishes three valuable things:

  • Deeper knowledge, skills and abilities: Because I’m teaching the topic, I’ve got to master it myself. This extra layer of information retention and communication has made a huge difference in my overall skill set -- after all, you can’t unlearn your progress -- which in turn has continued benefits for every endeavor in my life.
  • Practice at effective communication: When I teach the topic to my team, I hear their questions, obstacles and overall responses -- valuable intelligence. Over time, I’m able to predict the stumbling blocks they’ll face, and proactively shape my communication to address and break those obstacles.
  • I scale my contribution and impact: Knowledge unshared is knowledge wasted.

The New Norm

I acknowledge that this management style isn’t for everyone, but I also argue that this is the new management paradigm for retaining high-performing, highly skilled workers.

You don’t need me to tell you that the world is changing. The days of 20-plus-year careers with the same firm are over.

And if job-switching is in fact the new norm, leaders have two options:

  1. Manage so that you’ve had the chance to inspire, mentor and positively impact every employee, from the janitor to the COO.
  2. Manage so that your employees understand that your support and mentorship only come in the context of their immediate usefulness to you.

There isn’t a right or a wrong approach here, but the choice you make will ultimately filter and determine the caliber of employees you attract, how hard they work for you, and how long they stay.

For me, No. 1 is how I want to interface with my clients and my team.

It’s also how I want to live my life, and how I want others to remember me -- whether they’re a former client, a colleague, an intern, the coffee shop barista or the receptionist at the coworking space.

And when I work with a leader who fearlessly inspires and mentors rather than managing, I show my appreciation through my performance, creative problem-solving, and loyalty.

Today’s work environment isn’t about transactions, it’s about transformation. If you run a widget factory and you just want people to show up and make widgets all day for a paycheck, save your money and hire robots or train unskilled labor until you can buy an army of robots.

Top performers won’t respond to the transactional nature of trading time for dollars. They don’t need a leader to inspire them to bring their A game, because they’re primed to perform at the highest level as a core daily practice. Similarly, they expect any leaders who work with them to bring their A game every day.

To attract these top performers, you must give them meaningful work. To keep them, I believe it’s about helping them grow personally and professionally.

Anything less than that, and you do your best team members a disservice and miss out on the opportunity to multiply your impact.

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