Put Employees First

Servant leaders clear obstacles rather than become the obstacles.

In my January 2022 column (https://trainingmag.com/how-to-deal-with-the-great-resignation/), I described how leaders need to focus on employee autonomy as a way to deal with the “Great Resignation.” Leadership author and expert Sally Helgesen calls it the “Great Reckoning” because she feels many employees long have been dissatisfied with their jobs and now they finally have a chance to do something about it.

The pandemic gave employees the time to audit their lives. In many industries, employees are finally in the driver’s seat. This is a wake-up call. Leaders need to pay attention and respond. It is a time for everyone to re-examine the integration of work and life.

Interestingly, Adam Grant, professor at the Wharton School and author of “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” believes these resignations are not “a mad dash away from the office, but the culmination of a long march toward freedom.”


Many authors have been beating the drum for servant leadership for decades—including Robert Greenleaf, Howard Schultz, and Jim Autry. A servant leader serves rather than manages others. In serving others, leaders clear obstacles rather than become the obstacles.

In a recent Reboot Podcast, Jerry Colonna and Ali Schultz interviewed senior leaders about their daily challenges. The interview drives home how critical it is to focus on the well-being of employees. As Colonna said, “We need to get back to putting humans first.”

Schultz added, “It makes employers really get serious about how we are treating our people and putting people first… How do you take care of all of these aspects of what it means to have an organization people want to work for—all the way from psychological safety to good benefits and adequate and appropriate pay?”

BlackRock Chairman and CEO Larry Fink is one executive making the business case for why workers “demanding more from their employers is an essential feature of effective capitalism.” In his annual “Dear CEO” letter, Fink writes that putting employees first “drives prosperity and creates a more competitive landscape for talent, pushing companies to create better, more innovative environments for their employees.” He notes research shows that companies that forged strong bonds with their employees have seen lower levels of turnover and higher returns through the pandemic.

The message is clear: Employee satisfaction is essential to having a successful business. As leaders, let’s serve those who work for us, so workers don’t have to make demands—or quit to work for a competitor.

Jann E. Freed
Jann E. Freed, PhD, is an author, speaker, coach, and leadership development consultant. Her forthcoming book is “Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering” (Routledge Publishing, 2023). For more information, visit http://www.JannFreed.com