People don’t leave companies. They leave leaders!

I have employed thousands of people over the years. And every time one resigned, a little part of me died. (OK, I lie. I have actually danced a celebratory jig around my desk on the odd occasion, but that’s another blog!)

Mostly, my natural reaction has always been a human one I suppose. “What possible reason would they have to do that?” or “What’s wrong with them?” or even, “She must be leaving for money. The fool!”

But I grew wiser as the years rolled by.

Mostly, people don’t change jobs solely for money. They almost never resign on a whim, or in a fit of anger. They joined your company because they believed it right for them, and actually they want it to be right. Something, at some point, makes it wrong. And if you really take the time to dig into their real reasons for leaving – and you should – you will find that it’s not ‘the company’ they blame. It’s not the location, or the team, or the database or the air-conditioning.

It’s the leadership!

Sure, they may not use that word. Indeed, they may not mention management at all.

But when they talk about ‘morale’, when they say ‘communication is poor’, when they express frustration at the lack of clarity for their career progression – they are telling you that it’s the leaders they are leaving. For it’s obvious, isn’t it? Leaders are responsible for morale, communication and career path.

So, for maybe 15 years I have been irritating the senior managers who report to me, by stopping them in mid-sentence when they start venting at the stupidity, lack of gratitude and disloyalty of the departing employee.

Looking into a mirror can be a shocking experience. Especially if you have not done it for a while.

A ‘company’ is just a legal entity. A ‘business’ is a collection of desks and computers. No one resigns because of that.

It’s the decisions, the motivation, the atmosphere, the ethos, the support, the training, the vision, and the direction set by the leadership that they will follow.

Or not.

So next time you get a resignation, resist the temptation to laugh it off as ‘another dumbo who doesn’t get us’.

Take a moment to reflect on what it actually is they are resigning from.

It’s not the departing employee who doesn’t  ‘get it’. It’s not the company they are leaving.

It’s you.

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About Greg Savage

Greg is an established global leader of the recruitment industry and a regular keynote speaker worldwide. Greg provides specialised advice for Recruitment, Professional Services & Social Media companies.

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62 Responses to People don’t leave companies. They leave leaders!

  1. Nadan Petri June 28, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

    Everything that has been said in this observation is true, but it’s just half of the story. (You, of course, realize the difference between this formulation and the one saying: “… Interesting article. However I think it is only 1/2 true…” Leadership attitude is an important, perhaps the most important of all the reasons for resignation, yet it could not be the only one, and so often it doesn’t count at all.
    I agree with one thing: The leaders almost never watch themselves in the mirror, they almost never ask themselves … I also think they don’t care. Their fat bellies and fat thick collars will not suffer. I was in a position to resign due to absolutely horrible leadership and absolutely wrong people leading the business. I wish them, from the bottom of my heart, the same … just to be forced to go some day …

    • Peter Doherty November 2, 2013 at 11:25 am #

      I agree with your comment about leaders. I had the same thing happen recently. The person leading the team was the wrong person for the job, everyone knew it but management did nothing about it. The attitude of the leaders within reflect greatly on the people under him. I found as a supervisor, if I got involved with the worker, even in only a small way or asked ‘how things are going’ you got that much more respect. If the company can also be seen to be pro-active toward the employee, whether it be in the way of a bonus, or an early Friday or something as simple as a BBQ once a week, it’s seen to be giving something back and people will think twice about moving on so quickly.My company did these things but in the end, it was the attitude of my superior that pushed me out..

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