Retention Strategy: Treat Everyone As An Individual

It pays for IT leaders to leverage and cater to their people's unique talents, competencies, attitudes, and needs.

Larry Bonfante, Practicing CIO & Executive Coach, CIO Bench Coach

July 8, 2014

3 Min Read

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A number of years ago I was asked about my leadership style: "How do you lead people?" I answered in a grammatically incorrect way (I'm having flashbacks to the nuns smacking my knuckles with a ruler): "I don't lead people; I lead persons."

You see, each and every one of us is wired differently. Our teams bring together unique talents, competencies, attitudes, and needs. What matters deeply to me may not mean a hill of beans to you. What motivates you may be of no consequence to me. Leading people is about understanding what makes each of them tick as individuals and then tailoring a personalized value proposition.

In my role as CIO, I've been able to retain an outstanding team for more than a decade. Most of these people could make more money working for one of the Fortune 500 companies within a stone's throw of our offices. While we can't compete on dollar compensation, we can meet the needs of our people in other ways, like letting our soccer Moms and Dads leave work early at times to attend games or making sure that employees who have children with special educational needs are able to participate in their kids' therapy sessions. What motivates each of us is personal and unique.

[Want a more innovative team? Mix it up. Read Innovation: Disperse Or Congregate?]

I always laugh when I hear other leaders state that you shouldn't get too close to your people. While I'm not suggesting going out with your team to sing "Sweet Caroline" at Thursday night karaoke, I am suggesting that you find out what makes each individual tick and then find a way to support his or her goals, needs, and requirements.

There's an old expression: People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. Do your people feel that you truly care about them -- not as cogs in your machine, but as individual human beings with hopes, dreams, and challenges? Are you available to them, or are you aloof and just seen as "the Boss"?

Taking shortcuts never works with people. Neither does treating them like interchangeable parts. Each of us has had the experience of working for someone who made us feel like a droid, and it wasn't inspiring. Perhaps some of you have had the good fortune to work for someone who made you feel like a valued member of his or her extended family. How did that feel?

The greatest professional compliment I have ever received came a number of years ago, when the company I worked for administered a 360-degree evaluation for all of its senior leaders. Part of the feedback I received stated: "His people would kick down the gates of hell for him." Those words still mean the world to me, and they inspire me to care about my people even more.

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About the Author(s)

Larry Bonfante

Practicing CIO & Executive Coach, CIO Bench Coach

Larry Bonfante has held executive leadership positions for more than 30 years in the financial, pharmaceutical, not for profit, consulting, and sports and entertainment industries. He has received numerous industry accolades, including being nominated for the CIO Hall of Fame in 2013, being named one of CIO Magazine's CIO 100 in 2011, and one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders in 2009. Larry is the founder of CIO Bench Coach, an executive coaching practice for IT executives, and the author of the book Lessons in IT Transformation published by John Wiley & Sons. He has served as a mentor and executive coach for many IT leaders in various industries. He is an accomplished public speaker who has delivered keynote presentations at many major industry conferences; runs leadership workshops for world-class organizations; and writes leadership blogs for CIO Insight magazine, Enterprise Efficiency, and InformationWeek. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can learn more about his executive coaching practice at

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