Of all the factors that drive talent away from U.S. businesses, one stands out: a toxic corporate culture. That's according to a recently published article in the MIT Sloan Management Review, titled “Toxic Culture Is Driving the Great Resignation."

"A toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition and is 10 times more important than compensation in predicting turnover," according to the report's authors Donald Sull and Ben Zweig. “Our analysis found that the leading elements contributing to toxic cultures include failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling disrespected; and unethical behavior."

But that's nothing new to talent management experts.

"Toxic culture has always been a reason for employees to leave, but the definition of what constitutes a toxic workplace has expanded in more recent years," said Robin Lykins, chief people officer at software company Branch Metrics. “While abusive or unethical practices have long been cited as examples of a toxic culture, unfortunately, disrespectful and noninclusive environments were often more tolerated."

But no more, especially in an environment where talent becomes increasingly scarce as competition intensifies.

Human-relations talent expert and author Jodi Brandstetter says the real problem that pushes talent to the exit door is uncertainty.

"Workplaces become toxic when there is uncertainty or perceived uncertainty among employees about job security, innovation, recognition, and Covid-19," Brandstetter said. "Uncertainty was a key component to attrition before the Great Resignation and will remain one afterward, too. When looking to address or avoid a toxic culture, companies must prioritize communication and transparency. A lack of either or both will fuel a toxic culture and create turnover."

No matter how you define it, a toxic culture doesn't happen spontaneously.

My co-author Mike Soupios and I discussed in the book, "Ten Golden Rules of Leadership," that lethal failure begins at the top, with the abusive misapplication of power on the part of the leader. Nothing will more rapidly disenchant and alienate workers than a leader who delights in resorting to the stick instead of the carrot.

That's why corporations should carefully choose their leaders.

But that isn't easy. Resumes tell a great deal about the experience and expertise of candidates for the job, but they don't reveal much about their character. That will be revealed once the leader assumes office and begins to exercise power. Power will invariably reflect what no resume ever does, namely the psychological and spiritual disposition of the person.

Ashley Blackmon, the diversity, equity and belonging manager at indoor vertical farming company Plenty, thinks that leadership is critical at the team level, as it plays a crucial role in shaping the corporate culture.

"Leaders are often seen as role models, and many employees look to their leaders to guide, support, and advocate for them. If these priorities are lacking, employees can feel neglected and assume they don't matter to their leader or the organization," Blackmon said. "Poor leadership is also a huge driving force as to why top talent leaves an organization."

What are some good examples of poor leadership qualities?

"They include but are not limited to micro-managers, managers who are not open or are unable to receive feedback, managers who take credit for their team's work instead of giving their team credit, leaders who show a disinterest in developing their team, and leaders who fail to build trust and psychological safety within their teams," Blackmon said. "Poor leadership qualities such as these cause employees to become disengaged, and they ultimately end up leaving the organization."