As leaders, we’d like to think that when people leave, it has little to do with us. But the reality is that we are often the reason. Some sources estimate that as many as 65 percent of people leaving companies do so because of their managers. We may say that people quit their job or their company, but the reality is that they usually quit their leaders. The “company” doesn’t do anything negative to them. People do. Sometimes coworkers cause the problems that prompt people to leave. But often the people who alienate employees are their direct supervisors.
Most leaders can make a good impression on employees when they first meet. Add to that the optimism people have when they start a new job. They want a new job to work out. But over time, leaders will be recognized for who they really are, not who they are trying to appear to be. If a boss is a jerk, it’s only a matter of time before an employee knows it.
So what kinds of people do employees quit? Most often they come in four types:
1. People Quit People Who Devalue Them
An elderly couple, George and Mary Lou, were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. With the divorce rate so high, a reporter wondered about their secret for success. So he asked George, “‘What is your recipe for a long, happy marriage?”
George explained that after their wedding, his new father-in-law took him aside and handed him a little package. Inside the package was a gold watch that George still used. He showed it to the reporter. Across the face of the watch, where he could see it a dozen times a day, were written the words, “Say something nice to Mary Lou.”
All of us like to hear good things said about us. We all want to be appreciated. However, many people don’t receive positive feedback and appreciation at work. Often it is quite the opposite; they feel devalued. Their bosses act superior and treat them with disdain or, worse, contempt. And that spells disaster for any relationship—even a professional working relationship.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, writes about a relationship expert named John Gottman who was able to reliably predict the potential success of a couple’s marriage based on their interaction with one another. What was it that he looked for that indicated that a marriage relationship was headed for disaster? Contempt. If one of the partners treated the other with contempt, the relationship was usually doomed to fail.’
It is impossible to add value to someone we devalue! If we don’t respect someone, we cannot treat them with respect. Why? We cannot consistently behave in a way that is inconsistent with our beliefs. It has been my observation that when leaders devalue their people, they begin to manipulate them. They start treating them like objects, not people. That is never appropriate for a leader to do.
So what is the solution? Look for people’s value and express your appreciation for them. Leaders are often good at finding value in an opportunity or a deal. They need to have a similar mind-set when it comes to people. Find the value in the people who work for you. Praise them for their contribution. They may contribute value to customers with the products they produce or the services they provide. They may contribute value to the organization by increasing its overall worth. They may contribute value to their coworkers, building them up or maximizing their performance. Find something to appreciate in them, and they will appreciate working for you.
Effective leaders ensure that people feel strong and capable. In every major survey on practices of effective leaders, trust in the leader is essential if other people are going to follow that person over time. People must experience the leader as believable, credible, and trustworthy. One of the ways trust is developed—whether in the leader or any other person—is through consistency in behavior. Trust is also established when words and deeds are congruent.
Have you ever worked with people you couldn’t trust? It’s a terrible experience. Nobody likes to work with someone they can’t rely on. Unfortunately, a survey conducted by Manchester Consulting indicates that trust in the workplace is on the decline. They discovered that the five quickest ways that leaders lost the trust of their people in the work place were:
- Acting inconsistently in what they say and do
- Seeking personal gain above shared gain
- Withholding information
- Lying or telling half-truths
- Being closed-minded
When leaders break trust with their people, it is like the breaking of a mirror. Strike a mirror with a stone and the glass shatters. And while it may be possible to recover all of the pieces and glue them back together, the mirror will always show cracks. The greater the damage done, the more distorted the image is. It becomes very difficult to overcome the damage done in a relationship when trust has been lost.
In contrast, the survey found that the best ways for leaders to build trust were to:
- Maintain integrity
- Openly communicate their vision and values
- Show respect for fellow employees as equal partners
- Focus on shared goals more than their personal agendas
- Do the right thing regardless of personal risk
Building and maintaining trust as a leader is a matter of integrity and communication. If you don’t want people to quit you, you need to be consistent, open, and truthful with them.
People Quit People Who Are Incompetent
Everyone wants to feel that their leader can handle the job, whether they are a worker on the factory floor, a salesperson, a midlevel manager, an athlete or a volunteer. Leaders need to inspire confidence, and they do that, not with charisma, but with competence.
When leaders are incompetent, they become a distraction to the team. They waste people’s energy. They prevent people from keeping the main thing the main thing. They take the focus from the vision and values of the organization and place it on the behavior of the leader. If the people working for an incompetent leader have a high degree of skill, they will continually worry about the leader messing things up. If they don’t have skill or experience, they won’t know what to do. Either way, productivity declines, morale suffers, and positive momentum becomes impossible.
An incompetent leader will not lead competent people for long. The Law of Respect in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership states, “People naturally follow leaders stronger than themselves.” People whose leadership ability is a 7 (on a scale of 1 to O) won’t follow a leader who is a 4. Instead, they quit and find someone else somewhere else to read them.
People Quit People Who Are Insecure
If a leader values people, possesses integrity, and displays competence, then people will be content to follow, right? No, even if leaders possess those three qualities, there is still one characteristic that will drive people away from them: insecurity.
Some insecure leaders are easy to spot. Their desire for power, position, and recognition comes out in an obvious display of fear, suspicion, distrust, or jealousy. But sometimes it can be more subtle. Exceptional leaders do two things: they develop other leaders, and they work themselves out of a Job. Insecure leaders never do that. Instead, they try to make themselves indispensable. They don’t want to train their people to reach their potential and be more successful than they are. In fact, they don’t want them to be able to succeed without their help. And anytime someone who works for them rises up to too high a level, they see it as a threat.
People want to work for leaders who fire them up, not who put out their fire. They want leaders who will lift them up and help them fly, not who keep them down. They want mentors who will help them reach their potential and succeed. If they perceive that their leader is more concerned with maintaining their authority and protecting their position, they will eventually find someone else to work for.