Any leader worth his or her salt has a pretty good feel for toxic behaviors to avoid that can lead to an undesired culture at work. And they know feeding such a culture leads people to leave. But not all flight-inducing foibles are created equal. Some are easy to miss and happen despite the best intentions of a leader.
Over a 30-year corporate career, I have seen many good leaders create an unplanned exodus by not addressing or being aware of what follows. Here are the seven most often overlooked traps that cause people to leave:
1. Failure to drive mission fit.
Everyone wants to believe that they’re doing meaningful work that fits within an important mission. People get antsy when they don’t see a connection between their day to day contributions and anything that matters.
The best leaders take the time to help connect the dots between each employee’s work and a higher order mission of importance. If you can’t connect the dots, you’ve got your employees working on the wrong thing. And when people can’t see how their work advances an important goal, they’ll leave.
2. Not showing employees you care about their career as much as your own.
This isn’t about being callous, which is obviously something a good leader wouldn’t be. But even good leaders underestimate how much they need to visibly care for their employee’s career. That includes giving them stretching assignments and providing learning and growth opportunities along the way. It also means taking the time to sit down with the employee to really understand what they want in their career, and then mapping out a plan to get them there.
When people don’t feel good about their chances of advancing their career and themselves, they’ll advance right out the door.
3. Focusing on process over progress.
This is one that really got to me in corporate and at a minimum made it easier for me to leave that work behind. You likely feel this way yourself; when employees get bogged down by processes and bureaucracy that prioritizes systems and “ways of doing things” over common sense and plain old making progress, it’s a real problem. It adds up over time to wear you down.
As a leader, it’s easy to look past process fatigue, just assuming it’s the way of the world, especially because you’ve got so much else to worry about. But leaders can contribute to or curb the amount of process they subject their subjects too. Don’t underestimate the draining impact here.
4. Being consistently inconsistent.
I’ve seen even the best leaders who want to do the right thing each time not realize how inconsistent they were being in their decision making and how much frustration it was causing. People hate uncertainty and would rather have a boss who they may not always agree with in terms of how they act and decide, but from whom they at least know what to expect.
This one takes some work to avoid. But here are two simple things you can do. Put repeatable processes in place (while keeping an eye on number three above) to create some consistency, and be careful to mind your mood swings. An uneven tempered, unpredictably moody boss gets real old, real fast.
5. Driving competing priorities.
No one wants to work in a no-win situation, which is what this is. I remember a group I worked in that had two de facto leaders, both of whom were working off their own agenda. They sent conflicting messages to the troops on direction and priorities on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis.
Employees want to be set up to win, not to lose. Competing priorities force the latter, and are something you can’t wait until later to stop.
6. Not addressing underperformers.
Even good leaders can overlook this devastating blow, because they think they’re doing the right thing and giving an underperformer every chance to succeed. But they’re really just shirking their duty and not seeing the corrosive effect one bad apple can have.
When underperformers go unaddressed, it drains an entire organization, demonstrates a lack of accountability, and even sends a message that the boss doesn’t care about the other employees that have to deal with the dead weight.
7. Under appreciating.
Even the best leaders can forget the importance of appreciating, especially in the heat of the battle when there’s so much else to do. But of all of the seven mistakes I’ve described, this one is the most common and most caustic. It’s a basic human need to be appreciated and I can guarantee more exits than you want if you aren’t giving this one due diligence.