First was the Great Depression. Then came the Great Recession

Sixteen months after the first Covid-19 lockdown, it's now time for the Great Resignation.

A record four million people quit their jobs in April alone, and more say they want to do the same. A Microsoft survey found 41 percent of workers globally are considering changing employers. 

At the same time, another survey found that a quarter of human resources and C-suite leaders expect no employees to leave as pandemic restrictions are lifted. 

Are business leaders really so disconnected from the wants and desires of their employees?

A new competency is needed 

More than a year of pandemic restrictions has led to a reawakening for workers. Do they like their jobs? Is their work fulfilling? What is the proper work-life balance? Clearly, many employees are thinking about a change.

As a result, business leaders should be considering a change too -- about their own thinking and the way they work with employees. They need a new leadership competency.

For decades, top executives focused on putting a standard set of skills into the business management toolbox: setting clear priorities; understanding a balance sheet; negotiating and communicating; prioritizing between what is urgent and what is important; demonstrating good character and maintaining high ethical standards; the willingness to have high-courage conversations. 

In recent years, there's been a bigger focus on agility and the ability to embrace change. Though that skill usually has been applied to executing strategy, the Great Resignation means it's time to apply it to retaining company talent.

Some traditional business leaders say the workplace is for work, and personal matters need to be left at home.

To these people, I say: That is so 1990s. Good luck hanging onto your trained and talented workforce in 2021.

Agility is everything

 If you are a leader who wants to retain your people during the Great Resignation, you must move outside your traditional paradigm. Nine times out of 10, a decision on whether an employee will stay or go hinges on the relationship with their leader. Does the leader understand their individual circumstances? Does the leader show empathy and flexibility?

A modern business leader must be agile enough to know what's important to individual employees -- today. 

Is a key employee going to stay if you promise a $20,000 raise? Maybe. But other factors may be just as important.

Some people want a new title to reflect their growing responsibilities. Others might need words of affirmation after a difficult 18 months. Some want to reignite their enthusiasm with a stretch project and growth opportunities.

Have an open mind

Coming off quarantine, others might want more flexibility in their time or location. The health of some employees may have declined during the pandemic, and now they are intent on getting in shape.

Some might need encouragement to start a side hustle that lets them monetize their passion without losing their employee benefits. 

Are they a 1099 worker who needs to come on staff to qualify for a home mortgage? Does someone need different health care coverage?

You're going to have to become more agile in your dealings with employee desires. That requires valuing people enough to expand outside your comfort zone -- exercising more patience, adopting a longer-term vision, and recognizing the value of individual skills, relationships, and institutional knowledge.

The way for leaders to survive the Great Resignation is to exercise an unnatural nimbleness to see people, listen to people, adjust to people -- and meet them where they are.