The “big quit.” The “Great Resignation.” The “take this job and shove it measure.” Americans are leaving their jobs in droves. More than 20 million people quit in the second half of 2021. To mitigate the effect, hiring managers are using sign-on bonuses, flexible schedules, and a variety of perks to attract candidates. Still, the “help wanted” signs are everywhere.
Why are workers leaving? The data is clear. Exit surveys consistently show that people leave their bosses, not their jobs. Employees want to work for leaders who provide clear direction, recognition, and above all, a reason to stay on the team.
High turnover is one of a leader’s harshest realities. How can you inspire frustrated, overworked employees to stay with you? If you have led an organization hard hit by departures, you know the intense pressure all too well. The work still needs to get done even as your team is dwindling. It feels isolating, particularly during the Covid pandemic; however, you are in good company.
In December 1776, General George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army, had racked up a humiliating string of defeats at the hands of the British Army. He lost every battle he fought. He lost New York and New Jersey. He lost the confidence of the Continental Congress and several senior members of his team. Some even said he lost his mind.
Washington and his army had retreated to safety on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River. Each day, he paced up and down the riverbank, debating what he should do. His soldiers’ enlistments were due to expire on December 31. Unless something dramatic were to happen, on January 1, 1777, the Continental Army would cease to exist, and the Revolution would be snuffed out. Washington’s soldiers were tired, sick, dejected, and unpaid. He knew he needed to give them a reason to stay. He also knew he had almost nothing to offer.
Washington was aware that the British and their Hessian troops had settled into winter quarters and were not expecting to fight any battles until spring. His spies informed him that Trenton, New Jersey, was the end of the British line. Trenton held a small contingent of Hessian troops who were isolated from the nearest British post in New Brunswick. The more Washington thought about it, Trenton looked like an opportunity.
Reflecting on his recent losses, Washington realized his strategy had been misguided. To survive, he needed to play to his team’s strengths. His soldiers knew the area, a major advantage over the Hessians marooned in Trenton. The Hessian presence in Trenton was a smaller and much more realistic target than the 25,000-man British army that had thrashed the Continental Army at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights. Washington knew his soldiers lacked the training necessary to fight big battles; they did, however, excel at surprise attacks.
As Christmas neared, Washington hatched a plan. If he could cross the Delaware, lead a surprise attack on Trenton, and defeat the Hessians, he would stand a chance at convincing his soldiers to reenlist. With an achievable goal, he believed he could boost their confidence and regain their trust.
Washington’s choices were stark. If he did nothing, his frustrated soldiers would quit. If the attack failed, the army would be destroyed. The only hope for success rested on risking everything. It was the biggest gamble of his life.
At Battlefield Leadership, our Washington’s Crossing program takes participants through what historians have dubbed the “ten crucial days” that saved the American Revolution. Join us at the McConkey’s Ferry house where Washington met with his staff and walk the battlefield at Princeton as we discuss how Washington averted what was nearly the “great resignation” of 1776. You will learn how he pivoted his strategy, managed executive disagreements, achieved buy-in from his team, mitigated risks, and clearly communicated his “leader’s intent.” This program will teach you to think like Washington, equipping you to meet your company’s challenges head-on.
We will see you on the battlefield.
Through our unique programs, leaders from Fortune 500 companies, government entities and higher education institutions learn how to overcome these challenges and transform their organizations, positioning them for future successes. Find out how Battlefield Leadership can help your team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 864.386.9637.