People leave Managers not Companies

Leadership — “One of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.” James Burns.

Early in my career, I did exactly that, I resigned from a fantastic management position because I could no longer have a professional relationship with my manager. I didn’t want to leave, the company had been extremely good to me, they invested in me and took a risk by giving me a major project at a young age. There was no doubt that I was destined for greater things. Yet, stressed and not wanting to — I resigned. Why? Because I had a manager I didn’t trust, I found I couldn’t form a professional working relationship and I was continually being undermined.

During my career, I lost very few employees, so I consider that I was doing something right. Yet when the question is put to people “what do you think about your manager?” the common answer is nearly always negative, so what are these managers doing wrong? Then there are many employees who are dissatisfied with their jobs, feeling economically trapped, angry, frustrated, and unable to better their situation. What’s going on? What are the causes behind poor management and unhappy employees, and when did it all begin?

Common reasons why people resign:

  • Poor management
  • Lack of advancement
  • Insufficient remuneration
  • Boredom, low job satisfaction
  • Poor workplace culture, lack of respect
  • Better opportunity

Common reasons given about bad managers:

  • Incompetence
  • Poor communicator
  • Poor listener
  • Rude, abrupt, arrogant, humiliating
  • Shows no interest

Common thoughts given by bad managers about their employees:

  • Incompetent
  • Lazy
  • Will not follow directions or procedures
  • Shows no interest

Common attributes of poor organizations:

  • See their employees as units of labour, easily replaceable and not worth investing in.
  • Inferior at training their mid-level managers, preferring instead to invest in leadership training for senior executives.
  • Vests a lot of power in individual managers, allowing them to impose their form of control, rules, and regulations just as long as they achieve business goals imposed on them from above
  • Managers are intimidating people in positions of power who are coercive, dictatorial and distrusting.

A research study on American employees from Gallup found that 50% resign due to bad management. The study continues to show that having a ‘bad’ boss creates unhappiness in the office, adding stress and spreading negativity to their home life and families. Finally, workers feel like they’re given little guidance as to what’s expected of them.

The cause of all this dissatisfaction

It may stretch back to the early 1880s and the Industrial Revolution where cotton mills enforced a type of control we know today as the traditional management model, also called the command-and-control structure — a term referring to keeping subordinates in line. This management approach, based on the hierarchical and often brutal British military and naval traditions, typically involved the development and implementation of strict rules of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour with harsh consequences for breaking the rules. The traditional approach underwent a refinement in the 1920s and another after WWII bringing about the management model that dominates many of today’s organisations.

Under this model managers, jobs are to plan, organise staff, direct and control. They are largely autocratic and sometimes viewed as intimidating and can rule with compulsion, force, control and secrecy. They command respect through seniority and years of service and will in extreme circumstances use physical, psychological, and economic force. They set expectations for the employees below them who need to meet certain goals, but the manager receives the reward for achieving those goals. These managers also tend to experience a frequent turnover of employees, they do not always welcome new ideas and are often unaware of problems amongst their team members.

Employees working for traditional managers are often dissatisfied with their jobs and are unhappy with managers who provide little or no support and motivation. They are growing frustrated at not having input into their work and they frequently leave when better opportunities arise. Employees are insisting on higher levels of job satisfaction and want their managers to be open and honest, fair and reasonable, and to value them and their contributions.

The effects of different management styles

The Traditional Copycat Manager

These are managers who have received no supervisory or management training and who have been subjected to traditional managers as their management role models. Not knowing any better, they simply copy the traditional management style believing this is what the path to success looks like. These managers success, attitudes and approach to their employees is largely based upon their personalities. Some can be extremely effective whilst most are abnormal, they are the cause of much employee dissatisfaction.

The Reluctant Manager

There are two types, the first is the manager who is appointed based on seniority or years of service where capability can be irrelevant, it is simply a matter of who is next in line. The second are people who don’t want to be a manager but accept or apply for a promotion for the pay or prestige. These people fundamentally lack any management potential, they are usually angry and frustrated as they have great difficulty in influencing and motivating others.

The Progressive Manager

These are managers who have adopted one of the newer management styles such as Servant, Democratic, Participative or Collaborative. Progressive managers have known for decades that the traditional, hierarchical pyramid model is outdated. It does not suit today’s fast-moving environment, nor does it suit today’s employees. Its rigidity cannot support agility, speed, or engagement, and then there is the troubling aspect of vesting of too much often-abusive power in managers over their employees. A progressive management style is marked by transparency and sharing information with employees where progressive leaders empower everyone. It is a leadership style that values sharing and collaboration.

The Transformational Manager

Transformational management is a progressive style with managers who are agile and who focus their efforts on pushing their team members to ever greater accomplishments through encouragement, pushing them regularly past their comfort zones and motivating them to raise their bar for achievements. They motivate their team members to do more than they thought was possible, they work alongside their employees, inspiring them to ever greater efforts by demonstrating their work ethic. Transformational managers set challenging expectations and typically achieve higher performance outcomes from their teams. They manage people as valuable individuals, identifying and developing their talents. They are role models who are respected and trusted and they build High-Performance Teams.

The High-Performance Manager

This is a management style created by the author, described in the High-Performance Management and Teams model. This model is predicated on the assumption that the traditional way of managing has run its course and that increasing competition and rapid changes in technology are starting to move it into the background, favouring progressive styles in its place. The model builds a transitional pathway between the old traditional model and the newer progressive management models by the building of high-performance teams inside traditional organizations. It creates the High-Performance manager who is entirely transformational, open and honest and who values their employees’ contributions.

The High-Performance Manager is more charismatic and is an excellent motivator who inspires followers with challenge and persuasion, providing meaning and understanding; they are intellectually stimulating. They are viewed as individually considerate leaders, admired, respected and trusted with high standards of ethical and moral conduct. They actively mentor and encourage creativity with no room for public criticism. They pay special attention to each individual’s needs for achievement and growth, and their behaviour demonstrates acceptance of individual differences.

What are employees demanding?

Today’s new generation of employees unlike the Baby Boomers before them are vocal about what they want their workplace to look like, they will not accept the old-style methods of the traditional model which they view as managing, administering, stifling, unreasonable and unwarranted. They want managers who recognise them for their efforts, who work in a collaborative, supportive and motivational manner. They want a say in how the workplace is managed, where free-thinking, empowerment and service and community are put ahead of self-interest. Progressive management styles and High-Performance Teams are perfect for them, they fulfil their willingness and desire to work across teams, as well as their constant need for feedback, reinforcement and praise for their being tech-savvy. No matter how they are viewed, the simple truth is that the new generation looks at work dramatically different than the generation that immediately preceded them.

Today, progressive organisations are leading the way in respect of how they view leadership and people management; it is these organisations that are making the move to progressive and transformational management styles and use of High-Performance Teams. I will leave you with this question to ponder: Do you want to work (or have your children work) in a traditionally managed organisation where personal and professional opportunity is limited or delayed? Or would you rather work in a progressive organisation that values people as their greatest asset and employs transformational and high-performance management methods?


IT Change Management, High-Performance Management and Teams Specialist, Leadership Development, Team Building, Author

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