"Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence in how you react. If you're in control, they're in control." ~Tom Landry

"To be a leader, you have to make people want to follow you, and nobody wants to follow someone who doesn't know where he is going." ~Joe Namath

Recently I was involved in a vigorous debate on my Facebook page as the whether the popular saying, “people don’t quit companies, they quit managers” had any validity to it. As an employee we can all remember the horrible boss who made every day a nightmare, so we naturally see some truth in the saying from that perspective. For those of us who are leaders, however, this seems like an indictment of our competency as we have all had people quit and would hate to admit that it was because of us. The saying riled up some of those leaders who felt that most of these decisions were influenced by things out of their control.

Now let me first say that the organization must certainly have a part in any employee deciding to quit. Executive management sets the tone and culture of the company, sets the pay scale, and makes the policies that managers must follow and enforce (many of which may rub the employee the wrong way). And there are a number of external factors like relocation, family issues, etc. that can result in an employee needing to move on. Because managers do not have control over all aspects of the motivators of an employee quitting, this saying is obviously not an absolute.

But what I cannot escape when looking at this honestly is that while the organization has enormous influence over how everything runs, the departmental manager has just as much, if not more, influence over how these things are perceived by their teams. The manager is the face, and often voice, of the organization from the perspective of the employee. To think otherwise is to grossly underestimate the manager’s role in the organization. Managers can influence how bad news is presented, they set the tone by their behavior in tough times, and they can promote fairness and understanding.

Let’s take look at the four most common reasons that employees site for leaving an organization and some questions a manager can ask themselves to show their influence on the area in question:

Loss of trust or confidence – Does the manager set a fair atmosphere? Are they honest and transparent? Do they explain their decisions? Do they follow through on what they say they are going to do? Do they demonstrate a knowledge of the direction of the department and how to reach departmental goals?

Feeling undervalued – Is the manager listening to employee feedback? Are they giving constructive feedback to the employee? Are they showing appreciation and noticing successes? Are they empowering their employees to be able to do more than the basics?

Set clear expectations – Does the manager flip flop between priorities? Are there two or more sets of rules depending on who they are talking about? Do they decide things, or procrastinate on decision? Do they communicate the goals and vision for the department?

No path for growth – Does the manager help set career goals with their employees? Do they meet on those goals at regular intervals? Are they training their team on new things? Are they exposing their team to different areas? Do they have a succession plan?

As you can see, the manager has an enormous amount of influence on these four main areas that cause people to quit. Yes, the organization can fail in these areas as well, but the most immediate influence on an employee, the person who is standing right next to them, is their manager. This gives the manager the opportunity to make up for the ills of the organization by demonstrating the traits that the organization is not.

Lastly, this article isn’t meant as an indictment for every manager who has lost an employee (I have lost many myself), it is meant to be a wakeup call to just how much power and influence you as a leader have in your organization and over your team. So the next time you want to throw up your hands and say it’s out of your control, remember that you may just have a whole lot more control than you think. Don’t give it up, seize it.

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