A few years ago, I had a retention issue on my team. If the company averaged a 15% turnover, my team nearly doubled at just shy of 30%. My ego response kicked in – it’s not me; it’s them. They’re getting new opportunities, are not the right fit, and are not suitable for the role… you name it. As the turnover rate climbed, so did my emotional vulnerability, fear, and desire for self-preservation.

As much as it killed me, I went to the HR Director and asked her for all the feedback she had received from my team members during exit interviews. A few days later, I received the worst evaluation summary I’ve ever gotten – and at my request, no less. Comments from former team members included: That face she makes when you haven’t met her standards is so frustratingEveryone notices it, and they hate it, tooStandards on this team are … simply unattainableKristin is a micromanager. The feedback painted a clear picture. I had work to do.

This was the accountability test of my professional lifetime, and I worried I wasn’t up for the challenge. I was tired and emotionally drained – did I have what it took to truly understand how my actions negatively contributed to my team’s turnover rate AND work to solve the challenge?

In these dire moments, we can separate ourselves as leaders and set the tone for courageously addressing challenges. As much as it stung, that’s just what I did:

  • Model the behaviors you expect. I began to model accountability, inspiring trust over time. Trust was at the core of what I was missing on my team, and demonstrating accountability while taking genuine ownership over my leadership mistakes quickly engendered the trust of others. With time, others started to model this same behavior, which caught like wildfire across the team.
  • Seek to recognize and embrace problems. I knew we had a retention problem – the metrics didn’t lie. Rather than sticking my head in the sand and ignoring the issues, I asked for as much feedback as possible. I wanted to understand the problem so I could do something about it, even if it were me.
  • Allow for mistakes. I learned to save my perfect for never and set aside the perfection expectation for my team members, too. I allowed for and, with time, even welcomed mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. This helped the team to discuss problems openly and apply their learnings going forward.

It wasn’t a quick fix – it took months of hard work and accountability for my less-than-best leadership, but with time, my retention numbers started to climb. After a long enough while, people sought out the team. And after an extended period, we became the gold standard for retention. It all started with accountability.

Founded in 2004, Lead Star is the company behind New York Times best-sellers SPARKLeading from the Front, and Bet on You. Lead Star supports professionals to reach new levels of success through an innovative coaching program, Year to Rise.