Don't Let Departures Damage Your Culture

Leaders often neglect a crucial culture-building moment: when someone on your team chooses to leave. Candidly put, they divorce you professionally.

Or at least that’s what it can feel like. A low point for every leader is when a top producer comes into your office and asks if they can talk to you. They’ve been dreading it all weekend, but the new offer has been accepted, signed, and returned, and now they have to break the news to you.

It’s crushing, often for both sides. But as the leader getting dumped, it’s especially hard as the reality sinks in, and you begin to understand this has been in the works for some time. Likely your trusted team member was lured away with secretive calls and covert meetings, without any chance for you to counter-offer.

It’s ego-crushing. But let it go and repeat, “It’s not about me—it’s about them.”

Obviously every departure has different details, reasons, upsides (and downsides) and criteria upon which they were agreed to. But they all have one thing in common, and that’s how you (the dumped leader) should handle it.

First, remember that sendoffs are more about those who stay than those who leave.

How you treat those who leave sends a very clear message to those who stay. Here are some quick points to consider during the transition:      

  • Resist the urge to feel betrayed. Do not make it about you and your feelings.
  • Be very positive from the outset about their decision and future. Congratulate them on what must have been a difficult decision. Don’t make it more difficult for them than it already is.
  • Reinforce that you wish they were staying and compliment them on what exactly you value about them. Tell them you are reflective about what you could have done to keep them more engaged so they would have wanted to stay—but acknowledge it might be more about the future for them than the past (don’t make it about you).
  • Announce to the broader team how genuinely excited you are for the departing colleague’s future career. Talk it up. Tell the departing person you wish them well and hope they learn an immense amount at their new employer, and they are invited to return whenever they’d like and bring that new expertise back with them. And in the meantime, they can refer their trustworthy, talented friends to work here.
  • After they’ve left, stay in touch. Check-in with them—make sure they know you’re invested in them.
  • Talk about them with those who stay—and not by blaming things on them or confessing their sins. Generally, make it safe for people to leave.
  • Those who stay will watch closely what you say about those who leave—as they know they’re next.
  • Finally, think carefully about what you could have done to have kept them. How could you have inoculated them against competitors and recruiters? Are you courting your current employees as much as you are prospective hires?

Most importantly, don’t forget the wise words of Dr. Stephen R. Covey: “You build trust with those who are present when you are loyal to those who are absent.”

Leading a team requires a different skillset than working as an individual contributor. To succeed in the face of new challenges, first-level leaders need to shift how they think and act. Download our latest guide and develop your people into a high-performing team. 

About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as Senior Advisor, Thought Leadership. Scott hosts the world’s largest and fastest-growing podcast/newsletter devoted to leadership development, On Leadership. Additionally, Scott is the author of the multi-week Amazon #1 New Releases, Master Mentors: 30 Transformative Insights From Our Greatest Minds, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

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