Stephen A. Ingalls, President/CEO, Catalyzer Inc.

You may have read our recent article on “The Great American Job Fair,” which others are referring to as “The Great Resignation” in the last edition of this magazine. We were surprised that attrition rates did not stabilize after unemployment supplements expired in early September 2021, so the analysis goes on. A recent article in the MIT Sloan Management Review offers new insights. Among them that a poor or toxic culture is 10.4 times more likely to contribute to attrition than is higher compensation.

We need to connect a dot here—the toxic culture MIT Sloan is talking about most likely shows up in how frontline leaders are dealing with your employees. While the organization’s culture may not be toxic itself, that factoid is irrelevant when you’re reporting to a subpar leader. Your leaders are the ambassadors of your culture. Duh.

What we continue to hear from potential client organizations confirms our frontline leader argument. Businesses are looking to provide their supervisory leadership with some “meat and potatoes” skills, and after delivering 151 frontline leadership-focused programs for over 4,250 individuals at this level, we believe we know what these skills are. They include:

  • Leadership Foundations.
  • An Introduction to Emotional Intelligence.
  • Communicating Like a Boss.
  • Positive Interpersonal Accountability.
  • A Guide to Performance Feedback and Coaching.
  • Practical Team Building.

Leadership Foundations. “Leadership” is a ubiquitous word, but few who use it understand exactly what they’re talking about, what it looks like, and how it’s uniquely practiced wherever they work (and we tend to promote them or talk to them about their “leadership potential” without having that dialogue).

An Introduction to Emotional Intelligence. These supervisory leaders are traditionally great technically/functionally, but they’re not well-trained interpersonally (and these are the skills they’ll rely on to effectively lead others moving forward). We talked about how emotional intelligence can get you “all the ketchup you can eat” in another article last year.

Communicating Like a Boss. Moving from transmitting to listening is harder than it looks, as is managing knowledge distribution across teams. Email and meetings seem like easy solutions, but they are fraught with potential missteps. Also, most new leaders underestimate the power of their non-verbal communication on employees.

Positive Interpersonal Accountability. Western culture too often uses accountability as code for giving someone else a whuppin’. This makes the skill both negative and extremely difficult for some, especially those who avoid conflict.

A Guide to Performance Feedback and Coaching. By the time they’re promoted, leaders have received both of these (positively and negatively) but are seldom formally trained to deliver them to others. We expect leaders to “get out there and coach ‘em up” without additional development. Nope—hope is not a method.

Practical Team Building. Putting a group of people in the same room or on the same task does not a team make. That old forming, storming, norming, and performing model applies, but while it explains what’s going on, it doesn’t explain the specific skills new leaders should emphasize and that are necessary to build teams.

MIT Sloan, Harvard, McKinsey and others are also talking about these skills, referring to them as “table stakes” in addressing the challenges of retention. Yet we too often hear community banks are too busy for these programs—probably while they’re scrambling to backfill employees moving to other organizations. It’s 10.4 times, remember? Addressing the challenge isn’t free, but “10.4 times” gets my attention. Feed your frontline leaders. It keeps both them and your employees right where you need them.

Want some help? We hope you’ll give us a call. This is precisely what we do—and we know how to do it.

Stephen A. Ingalls is President and CEO at Catalyzer Inc. Catalyzer is an IBAT Associate Member and specializes in tailored leadership development programs, coaching, and research on people-focused issues. More information is available from him at

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