How can you develop your team AND retain them at your company? Try these five tips.

Here’s how to be a supportive leader who keeps top talent but doesn’t hold on too tight

It’s one of the toughest balancing acts any leader faces:

You know it’s your job to develop the people on your team so they can take on new opportunities and grow.

But as team members become more and more essential to your organization’s culture and success, you start to worry. 

Is the development you’ve offered just setting them up for an opportunity somewhere else?

I get it! It's natural to be attached to your top performers and worry about losing them. But I’ve seen this fear cause leaders to hold on too tight – with disastrous results.

This attitude is a surefire way to hinder the growth and development of employees and create a culture of dissatisfaction and resentment. Plus, it’s a drag on your company’s performance. 

That’s obviously not a path we want to go down! 

So to help, I’ve got five practical ways to help you be the kind of supportive leader everyone wants to work for. 

Keep reading if you want to retain your top talent, equip them for whatever’s next, and confidently navigate those job transitions when they inevitably happen. 


Let people know you care about them.

The first thing you have to do with any talent you want to retain is show you care about them.

As I like to say, nobody's going to care about you until you care about them.

That means your job as a leader is to develop your people and help them grow as high as they can within your company. 

People want to trust that the person they work for has their best interest at heart.

And if you care enough to read this article, I know that’s true about you! 

But you can’t just assume your team members know that, too. You’ve got to go out of your way to demonstrate it! 

Take the time to understand the goals they have. Talk about them regularly. Consider how you can help them achieve those goals within your company. Show genuine interest in their personal and professional development. 

By doing those things, you’ll build a foundation of trust and open communication with everyone who works for you.


Be generous with development.

People want to work somewhere where they can develop. 

In fact, research shows 86% of people said they’d move to a new company if they were offered more opportunities for professional development.

It’s clear to see: developing people while they work for you is key to retaining top talent.

Equip them with the skills and knowledge they need to do their job well and also to prepare them for their next role. This may mean providing training and development opportunities or giving them stretch assignments that challenge and inspire them. 

Sometimes, those opportunities can open up new pathways of growth within your organization that a person may not otherwise have considered.

And even if they outgrow their current role, they will be more engaged and productive while they work for you. Consider these statistics from Deloitte:

“Organizations with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes, 52% more productive, 56% more likely to be the first to market with their products and services, and 17% more profitable than their peers.”

So don’t fall prey to the myth that developing your people will just create opportunities for them to leave. The opposite is true! Development is crucial to retaining top talent and driving performance, too.


Remember that great leaders develop other leaders

Do you know one of the things I’m proudest of from my time at Yum! Brands? I believe I’ve had over 20 people become CEOs of other companies after working with me. I love cheering them on as they reach new heights of success in leadership.

Here’s the reality: you can’t keep all your great people all the time. 

You do everything you can, but when it’s time for them to move on, you simply congratulate them on how they’ve grown and support them in their next venture. 

It’s a common theme I hear from the established leaders I talk to. For example, legendary college basketball coach Rick Pitino told me he’s had over 25 assistant coaches move on and take head coaching roles.

On my podcast recently, I talked with Bill Farish, who is the general manager at Lane’s End Farm. It’s one of the world’s top horse farms, but it's a small operation. They only have so many managerial positions. 

So he intentionally helps his young team members grow into roles at other farms where they can move up the ladder. 

When you have that kind of track record as a leader, you develop a strong reputation that helps you attract more talent. 

As Bill told me, “We've had a lot of success over the years, training people to move up in the business, and that success encourages young people to come to us.”

Plus, when your talent moves on, you create a network – almost like a family tree – that can open up more opportunities and partnerships for you down the road.


Be confident in your culture.

Now, a lot of leaders miss this last point. 

You’ve got to have confidence in your company and in the culture you’re building. Trust that you’re going to be able to bring in people with the same kind of talent or better. 

Leaders tend to hoard their people when they lack confidence – either in the job, the company, or in their own ability to lead. 

Invest in your culture and trust in what you have to offer. You’ll feel the freedom to encourage others to grow and move on, knowing that someone else wonderful is going to walk through the door next. 

To wrap things up, retaining top talent is critical for the success of your business. 

But you can’t be so fixated on keeping your people that you hamper their growth.

In fact, if you do, it will backfire. People will certainly move on if they don’t feel like they’re developing where they are.

It’s always better to help your team members grow. Of course, you’re always going to try to create those development opportunities within your company so people can achieve their own professional goals without having to look elsewhere.

But in some situations, it just isn’t possible. Things don’t match up, or the timing doesn’t work. 

So if someone finds that opportunity elsewhere, be gracious. Congratulate that person and tell them you’re proud of them. Recognize their contributions and cheer them on in their next role. 

And then, don’t sweat the next hire – because you’re clearly the kind of leader people want to work for, and you’re going to have no trouble filling that role with someone just as top-notch as the person who moved on.