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The War for Talent Makes Team Leadership More Important Than Ever

Within today’s tight labor market, both foundational and progressive leadership skills are crucial for managing teams and delivering results. Here are some tips for leading well so you can attract and retain top talent.

Embattled in the “War for Talent”

Thirty years ago, McKinsey & Company coined the phrase, “war for talent” to describe a labor landscape where attracting and retaining talent becomes exceptionally competitive. The phrase is even more timely now than when it originated.

The U.S. labor market has been slowing for decades. However, the pandemic accelerated the pace at which leaders are compelled to pivot their talent strategies.

The most recent U.S. Labor Department report points to a Great Resignation that continues unabated. More than 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in March 2022. Meanwhile, employers posted 11.5 million openings—both stats reaching their highest levels since record-keeping began almost a quarter-century ago. What’s more, turnover is up 20% in our increasingly remote and hybrid environments and is projected to stay that way.

Organizations of all sizes are struggling to fill positions with the right people. In response, executives must sharpen their teambuilding and leadership skills to attract, engage, motivate, and keep top talent. But how?

Leading teams with confidence and competence

People don’t leave jobs, they leave jobs where leaders lack the skills to effectively engage them and their colleagues. To build and maintain a high-performance team, leaders should examine two layers of leadership skills:

  • Durable skills every leader needs, in every environment

  • Market-moment skills leaders must enhance to adapt today

Back to the basics: durable leadership skills

At all levels within an organization, leaders and managers must develop foundational skills that will endure throughout their careers. Just because these skills are fundamental, however, does not make them “set it and forget it” traits.

The lifelong skills required to lead effectively, drive change, and deliver on goals demand ongoing refinement. Leaders must periodically ask themselves, have I recently reflected, asked for feedback, or intentionally practiced this skill?

You may use the list below as a benchmarking tool as you reflect on your leadership durability.


  • Leaders need communication skills to clearly and succinctly explain to teams everything from organizational goals to specific tasks, and they must know the best vehicles for delivering their message.

  • Great leaders communicate well by first listening well and then integrating feedback.


  • Teams exist to share work, problem solve, and contribute unique expertise. Leaders who fail to tap the wisdom of teams—usually by failing to delegate—typically deliver poor results. Successful leaders model good prioritization and time management.

  • Sharp leaders backfill their leadership gaps with a diverse team poised to handle delegated work.

  • People sense when a leader trusts them to do their jobs well, which increases commitment.


  • A leader’s words matter. Employees should feel comfortable bringing questions or concerns to the table.

  • Trustworthiness fosters the vulnerability necessary for team members to give and receive quality feedback.

  • Trustworthy leaders build cultures of accountability where people grow, deliver, and feel valued.


  • Today’s best leaders see opportunities to fail forward by trying new approaches, implementing new ideas, and then iterating to the point of success.

  • Leaders model curiosity and empower others to experiment.

Learn, listen, & adapt: market-moment leadership skills

With foundational skills in good working order, leaders are better able to meet evolving needs. For example, a leader who listens and learns knows how tough the War for Talent has become and adapts methods for keeping people engaged.

You may wish to consider the following strategies for crafting your response to this moment in the labor market.

Commit to inclusivity and leverage its benefits.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is a research-based way to ensure you are attracting skilled talent.

  • DE&I initiatives make decisions more equitable and transparent for all stakeholders.

  • A diverse and inclusive team naturally brings a broader set of skills and perspectives.

  • Diverse teams enhance creativity, innovate better, and create a sense of belonging that drives employee engagement.

Embrace flexibility

The pandemic exposed how inflexible many organizations were and unveiled the impact on wellbeing and productivity. While not every organization will continue remote or hybrid work policies, leaders should evaluate opportunities to offer flexibility in ways that fit business goals and support a healthy, vigorous team.

  • Flexibility decreases stress and enables employees to fulfill their commitments, an essential factor at a time when caregiving responsibilities have increased and women, in particular, have fled the workforce to attend to family concerns.

  • Policies and practices that intentionally offer flexibility are naturally more inclusive and can support DE&I strategies.

Build from within

Opportunity for advancement is vital in retaining talent. When there isn’t a visible career path, employees will naturally seek jobs elsewhere.

  • Today’s leaders know that their teams need upskilling and are hungry for opportunity.

  • Turnover is expensive. Hiring is arduous. Instead, market-moment leaders develop more pathways for upward career mobility, building their talent pipeline from within.

Don’t go it alone

No leader can win the War for Talent on their own. We all need help taking stock of our current skills, creating a personalized plan for improvement, and inviting feedback and alternative perspectives that will enable us to continually improve our team management.

A Vistage peer advisory group is a confidential, supportive forum where leaders share a community and contribute their insights and experience to foster one another’s success. Vistage equips leaders for the needs of today and tomorrow. Want to hear more? Don’t hesitate to reach out.


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