Your Best People Are Leaving…And I Know Why

Your organization is in crisis. A key person — or maybe a bunch of key people — just left, and now you’re struggling to deal with the consequences.

Before you talk yourself into believing that you’re the victim here, let me suggest some tough questions. Please answer them honestly.

  • Are you personally committed to telling your people the truth? How does your team know that for sure? What evidence do they have to the contrary?
  • Are you personally committed to standing by your people, even when all hell breaks loose? How does your team know that for sure? What evidence do they have to the contrary?
  • Are you personally committed to making sure your word is your bond? How does your team know that for sure? What evidence do they have to the contrary? 

I work with a lot of leaders. One of the things I find consistently is that when key people in the organization leave unexpectedly, this has less to do with the employee’s level of commitment than it does with the leader’s level of commitment — usually in one, two, or all three of the areas you just read.

Consider: When someone doesn’t tell us the truth about problems that are holding back their team … whose fault is that, ultimately? Who is supposed to model the commitment of telling the truth, even when the truth hurts? We are.

When someone walks away from the organization when all hell breaks loose, whose fault is that really? The leader’s, of course. That’s who’s supposed to show what total commitment during tough times looks like.

When someone says they want to stay on as a contributor in a key position long enough to finish a strategically important project … and then walks away in the middle of that project to go work for a competitor, whose fault is that, ultimately? Well – who hired that person, or set the process for hiring? Even more importantly, who is supposed to live the commitment, day in and day out, of one’s word being one’s bond? Obviously, it’s the leader.

Your key people are leaving because of a lack of accountability. And that starts at the top, with the way the leader thinks about the people in the organization. Accountability is the highest form of leadership. When it isn’t there … the best people leave.

Key people leave because they don’t enjoy the people they work for — meaning the leadership. They leave because they don’t enjoy the working environment — which is the responsibility of leadership, and which connects directly to leadership’s perceived willingness to be personally accountable for fulfilling important commitments. And they leave because they can’t achieve the mission they’re supposed to achieve — because they’re constantly being undermined by leadership that doesn’t tell the truth, won’t stand by them, and doesn’t live by “my word is my bond.”

Those are all things that the leader can and must control.

When the leader is personally committed in each of these three areas, and others just as important, guess what happens? People bust their humps to avoid letting the leader down … even if the competition offers them more money and better benefits to jump ship.

So, consider. Maybe it’s not really about them lying to you. Maybe it’s not really about them walking away from you when things get tough. Maybe it’s not really about them failing to honor their word. Maybe it’s actually all about the quality of the relationship you were committed to. Maybe that relationship wasn’t strong enough for them to want to stay on your team, for them to believe they had a future with you.

If that hurts to read, then that probably means this article is worth reading again. When you’re done, email me at for some ideas on how to turn things around.


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