Don’t Fall In Love

John Whitaker Retention

You’ve heard the meme before, “people don’t leave companies, they leave managers…” right? Sure you have, we all have—it’s repeated more times than you can count. Two things about that:

  1. Bullsh-t
  2. What about good managers?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term “good manager,” let me explain.

These are people who trust your abilities. They inspire you. You may feel a strange feeling of accountability, wanting to please him/her for reasons you cannot explain. You don’t work for them, you work with them (at least that’s what you think). You find yourself working harder, feeling better about it, and generally enjoying your professional life.  The sad thing is, until you’ve had a good boss, you may not even realize they exist. Kind of like the first unicorn you catch. When you find yourself working for one, it’s glorious.

Then… they leave.


Yup, good managers leave. Fact is, if they don’t leave after 5 or 6 years, they start to over-ripen and cease to be good managers. This is the irony… part of what truly quantifies a “good” manager is realizing when they have served their purpose, prepared their successor, and off they go to bigger and better ventures. Truly, these people are special leaders, and in today’s transitory job market, they are a hot commodity on the open market.

And we often stay at our companies because of them.

That’s right, it’s a total counter-reality to the “people leave managers, not companies” rhetoric. You can find any number of reports to tell you otherwise, but I’ve been in Human Resources for 20 years and can tell you I’ve yet to Exit Interview someone whose motivation for leaving a company was “my boss” unless said employee was describing a boss who was so unreasonable as to expect an acceptable performance level—one more reason not to take statistics at face value.

More often, I’ve seen the opposite: a good manager leaves, creating absolute heartbreak among his or her soon-to-be former team. It’s a dangerous dynamic when a team falls in love with the boss; it becomes an exercise in change management in addition to succession planning, and you use the same basic principles:

  • Act quickly
  • Communicate early and often
  • Identify potential retention losses
  • Establish new leadership quickly
  • Manage the people, not the process

You never forget your first boss-love. But be prepared for the inevitable… (*sniff*)