Having done scores of exit interviews for previous employers and clients, I got to look into the crystal ball of what employees wish their bosses knew, before they quit their jobs.

Before I share some typical and dysfunctional patterns that showed up, let me preface by saying there are plenty of good managers out there. I commend you. But there are also plenty of mediocre ones.

The difference between good and mediocre managers 

While most managers may know how to effectively manage the nuts and bolts of the work (project, scope, schedule, budget, timeline), real effective managers are also leaders who care enough about human beings to set them up for success. 

In the end, what distinguishes successful managers from the rest comes down to the set standards and practices of the best leaders. These are things that the employees in my hundreds of exit interviews wished their managers knew. Here are three to consider (written in the voice of the employee). 

1. I wish for more growth and development

People development is not a separate retention activity enforced by HR. It's ingrained in the mindset of good leaders who care about their employees. Obviously, this is a good business strategy, as it will increase team performance.

But beyond that, developing people is a goal of leadership in and of itself. It's a way of being. And this is how great leaders do it:

  • They identify their employees' gifts, talents, strengths, and personality types for the best job fit, so they can reach their potential.
  • They champion a learning spirit within the organization, sending a clear message that "growing our people is one of our highest priorities."
  • They provide ongoing training, coaching, and mentoring opportunities that are aligned with job purpose, performance measures, and fulfilling the organizational mission.

2. I wish for better communication

Communicating effectively with your employees is vitally important to your success as a leader. Even Warren Buffett considers developing your communication skills one of the best investments you'll ever make, stating that it "can increase your value by at least 50 percent."

One of the most effective means for improving leadership communication is to share information. Good leaders are transparent in sharing company information to foster trust and accountability across the enterprise. Being open and honest with everyone about both the good news and the bad news helps ensure people that their work and role are valued.

Leaders at Bridgewater Associates, the investment management firm founded by Ray Dalio, record every meeting and make it available to all employees. This open communication vehicle is a learning tool that illustrates how decisions are made. It also encourages more precise thinking and communication while reducing politics.

Effective communication isn't just about talking; good leaders listen intuitively to the other person's story, ask questions, and search conversations for depth, meaning, and understanding. Your intent is to put the focus on the other person and to be aware of their thoughts and feelings. It is a genuine expression of your desire to give and serve others. When you do, other people feel safe in your presence and you develop trust.

3. I wish for more flexible work hours

One of the many ways Americans have reevaluated their work lives during the pandemic is through the desire for more work-life integration. According to Beqom's 2021 Employee Expectations in Hiring Report, the majority (77 percent) of American workers would take a salary lower than the market average if they had flexibility in working hours.

The standard 9-to-5 no longer exists, as the lines between work and life have blurred for those in a hybrid workplace model. For many employees, it's unclear if they're working at home or living at work. Leaders need to lean into the flexibility that working from home can bring to their employees and embrace the benefits a flexible work schedule provides.

This may include allowing employees to make their own schedules to ensure their work gets done alongside their other roles, such as caregiving for children or other family members.