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Debunking a Myth: Do People Leave Companies or Bad Managers?

Among the abundance of information on the internet, we can find gems of inspiration, motivation, and content meant to help us focus and improve. But there’s the other side of the coin as well – all the crap that’s out there. My favourite? Motivational quotes.

We all love them and feel a rush of inspiration and motivation for 10-15 seconds. We all fall for them a bit too often. So much so that I bought Get Shit Done, I filled my previous office with quote-heavy posters, and I designed my own poster of the “Think Different” video advert – and paid over $100 to canvas it. I love it so much that I moved it with me to London, although more important things were left behind. One of the quotes that still stays with me so much time after hearing it is:

“People don’t leave companies. They leave bad managers.”

I see where it comes from, but I’d like to debunk it today. I left iPaper four months ago, and I can tell you one thing; it was not because of bad leadership. Actually, the leadership was excellent. The product was great. The company has success written all over it. The employees are motivated and truly pleasure to work with. The work environment and work / life balance is nothing to complain about. Everything is as it should be. Yet I still left.

Human beings are complex. It’s difficult to group them all into the same bucket. Some do actually leave good companies. And – what do you know – some actually choose to stick with bad managers.

 You won't stay in a job for too long just because you have a cool office space and a great boss.

You won’t stay in a job for too long just because you have a cool office space and a great boss.

I understand the meaning behind the quote. Of course good leadership increases the chances of people staying long-term. Just like working on a cool product or feeling appreciated does. But there are so many reasons why someone might leave a company for, and none has to do with bad leadership:

  • If you like starting new things all the time, you will change jobs often
  • If you want a change in your life – maybe to live in a new city or country – you’ll have to leave your job
  • You might need a break, and if sabbaticals are not an option, you’ll have to quit
  • You might not enjoy working with your colleagues or on a product
  • It might be time for you to move to a larger company, or into a more senior role that your current company can’t offer
  • Some other company might offer you more money, more challenges, more responsibility, or more holiday
  • One of your former colleagues tipped you about a new role in her company, and you want to work with her again
  • You achieved everything you wanted to, you learned a lot, but now it’s time to accelerate your learning curve – you need something else
  • You need to focus on your family and can’t afford working overtime anymore
  • You have no family, so before you have one, you want to work your ass off, and you need a company where you can do that.

There are so many reasons to leave a company, and bad leadership doesn’t always have anything to do with it. My guess is that more people leave because of some of these reasons than because of bad leadership. If you work in a booming industry, there are so many opportunities that are tough to say no to. There are so many exciting products created and, at the end of the day, isn’t this what it’s all about? I’d love to look back at my career in a few decades and have a suite of cool products I’ve worked on, rather than only one or two.

I’m all in for good leadership. I’m all in for following great leaders whenever they move to new companies. But it’s important to recognize the ones who are not willing to. The ones who are there to do the work they are passionate about and who move on when it feels comfortable to. Remember this when someone tells you that your designer left because you’re a bad manager. You might be. But that’s probably not the reason why she left.