When good workers resign from bad leaders

It’s not you, it’s me. Ever given that sort of resignation? Told your boss you are too overwhelmed? Need better work/life balance? Want to seek opportunities elsewhere? When actually what you really wanted to say was, ‘It’s you, mate.’

Most people resigning will never be honest about leaving because of a poor manager. Too worried about ‘small world syndrome’ and their bad review will follow them into their next role, they keep quiet. Those who are honest will usually wait until they’re sat in their exit interview with an anonymous HR person before they spill the beans. By that point, it is way too late to convince them to stay.

Making good

Chances are, if you are reading this, you’re not a bad leader. Good leaders are interested in self improvement, meaningful connection with their team and empowering others. A bad leader would have skipped past this headline without considering it applied to them.

Phew! But wait, this article still applies to you. Chances are, you are either an enthusiastic rising leader wondering how to make the best impact, or a senior leader wondering how to mitigate poor leadership lower down your organisation’s ranks. Here are four key things you can do to prevent good people from running away from poor leaders.

Keep talking

According to Scott Mautz, author of leadership tome Make it Matter, around 40 per cent of employees would have stayed in their role if someone had checked in with them. Make sure you hold regular meetings with your team or division to give your people the chance to stick their head above the parapet. Have an open door policy, be approachable, but don’t wait for employees to come to you – you need to make sure they have what they need, not just to do their job well, but to secure their personal wellbeing too.

Trust and ownership

In the old days, management was all about ‘do as I say, not as a I do’, and information was often only offered up on a need-to-know basis. But this strong hierarchy creates problems. It means people have less ownership over outcomes – good and bad – which can contribute to low feelings of self worth, believing you’re not valued or feeling like you are an underused resource. Offer up information, give context, let people see the outcomes they have contributed to – and give people responsibility. When you give people the chance to step up in a structured way, they usually shine.

Self reflection

Be self-aware. If you engage in reflective practice then all challenges become opportunities for positive change, all interactions are the chance to strengthen alliances and improve communication, and all problems are a chance to revise your solutions based approach. The goal is satisfaction, professionally and personally – and satisfaction can come even if an outcome hasn’t been ideal. If your staff see you taking opportunities to grow, they will do the same.


Continued professional development is a clear indicator that you care about the organisation. Model this by continuing to take opportunities to upskill through management training and mentorship, internally and externally. Offer your team members the chance to upskill as well – if you invest in them, they will invest in themselves and the organisation.

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