Rob Cross, Founder and CEO of Muru Leadership explains why as leaders we should focus less attention on financial rewards and benefits, and concentrate instead on the role managers can play in creating a happy and motivated workforce


So often as business (and HR) leaders, it’s easy to put all our energy into creating attractive packages of tangible benefits to motivate our workforce.


I will admit in all my years in talent management, I have never met a person who would say no to extra time off or a hefty pay hike.  And we all love the instant gratification of a free gym pass, shopping voucher or Audible subscription.  Who doesn’t love a ‘freebie’?


But let me be frank.  It’s not enough.


Although these are all effective ways we can reward and recognise staff, they’re not the most important.  As controversial as this may sound, I believe the single most important thing we can do to attract and retain our top talent is focus on enriching our leadership team.


Before I’m accused of endorsing a Scrooge-like approach, or justifying the removal of supposedly over-inflated banker style bonuses, let me explain.


For me leadership enrichment is not about money, job titles or benefits.  Put simply, it’s about recognising the human impact we as managers have on those we lead. It’s about shifting our leadership style to the purpose-led contribution we can make to our teams and to the business.


Prior to setting up Muru Leadership, I worked in various blue chip companies as HR and Talent Development Director.  The primary reason given to me in exit interviews as to why people were leaving was never the pay check or holiday allowance.  More often than not it was driven by conflict with their leaders or peers.


We can’t underestimate how important this is.  I recently spoke to a friend who turned down a job which would have meant a substantial promotion and £30,000 pay increase.  As tempting as it was, her rationale for declining the offer was that she couldn’t work out the motivations of her potential new manager.  Her gut told her that even though on paper it appeared to be a great opportunity, the financial gain wasn’t worth the potential risk of being utterly miserable at work.


And how many of us out there can put our hands up and say we’ve left a job because of a terrible boss?  You’re not alone.  A recent study by Total Jobs cited the reason almost half of UK workers have quit their job was due to poor management.  Worse still, almost a fifth (18%) said they felt unable to trust their boss, and 28% said their line manager was their “work enemy”.


The inconvenient and slightly uncomfortable truth is that benefits will only go so far to paper over the cracks of a dysfunctional or stressful work environment.


I believe the most effective way we can drive contentment, commitment and loyalty in the work place is to ensure that as leaders we individually look at ourselves first to ensure we are doing all we can to create a positive work environment that puts people first.


So how do we drive this step change?  It’s simple.  We need to look inwards to get a clear picture of our identity, our purpose and how we demonstrate leadership in practise.  What does self-reflection have to do with staff contentment? Well, the cold hard truth is people buy into people.  If you’re not conscious of how your leadership impacts your team, how can you be certain you have a happy and motivated work force?


To create this type of impact, when I work with leaders, I challenge them to ask these 3 simple questions:


Question One: Who am I?

What is my identity as a leader?  How do I show up to work?  Am I respectful of the opinions of my team or dismissive of their ideas?  How does this impact moral?  Do I show interest in them as people?


Question Two: Why am I here?

What is my purpose as a leader?  How do I add value to the business and my team?  Am I purely here to control and deliver a check list of tasks or can I make a bigger contribution by helping develop the team around me?  How can I better champion the achievements of my team?


Question Three: How do I live and lead?

How do I put leadership into practise?  How can I adapt my leadership style in mindful practise?


If you are thinking of redesigning your reward and incentives to attract and retain top talent, why not also redesign how you are developing your leaders. Why? Because no matter how much you pay people, it will never be enough to compensate for a bad leader!


For more information on Muru Leadership visit or follow us at


About Rob Cross

Rob is the founder and CEO of Muru – a next generation leadership coaching and development consultancy that aims to debunk redundant models of what it means to be a leader, and help individuals, teams and groups unlock their true potential.


20% psychologist, 10% agony aunt, 30% motivational speaker, 40% bullshit detector and 100% Dad and Husband, Rob’s no-nonsense approach to life and business makes him a refreshingly human leadership expert and mentor in today’s ever evolving and changing business landscape.


Bringing together his 20 years of hands on leadership, and practical experience of developing others, Rob researched, designed and launched Muru Leadership and ‘The 3 Questions’ ™.  In today’s age of acceleration, where the classic definitions of being a leader are no longer working, ‘The 3 Questions’ ™  methodology helps individuals and teams build greater courage and conviction in their own leadership, empowering them to lead and achieve higher levels of success and fulfilment both at work, and in life.