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

It always makes me happy to realize that within the abundance of information we can find on the internet, there are incredible gems of inspiration, motivation, and things meant to help us focus on what is the most important. Things meant to give us direction sometimes.

Most of the days though, when I browse around, I can’t stop myself from thinking that 95% of it all is pure bullshit. The biggest of them all: 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 that I even 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, such as clothes, were thrown away.

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.
— Someone; nearly everyone

While I see where this comes from, I can’t stop thinking of how much bullshit is behind it. 

I’d like to debunk this myth 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 good and only got better while I was there. The company has success written all over it. The employees are motivated and truly, truly a pleasure to work with. The work environment and work / life balance is nothing to complain about. Everything is as it should be. Yet people still leave.

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.

I fully 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. I just don't get why people take this too literally and obsess so much over it?

There are so many reasons why someone might choose to leave a company, and none has to do with bad leadership.

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.

If you like starting new things all the time, you will leave two years in. 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 be sick of working and want a break. If sabbaticals are not an option, you’ll have to make a tough decision and quit. Even if leadership is good, you might simply not enjoy working with your colleagues, or on the product that your company focuses on. 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 (more money, more challenges, more responsibility, more holiday). One of your former colleagues tipped you about a new role in her company - you want to work together again; so you leave. You achieved everything you wanted to. You learned a lot, but know that if you want to accelerate your learning curve, you need something else. You’ve been with your company for years and need a change in landscape. You need to focus on your family, therefore can’t afford having a job that requires you to work over. You have no family, so before you have one, you want to work your ass off - so you need a company where you can work over. 

This has to be the longest paragraph I’ve ever written. The best part is that I could’ve continued. There are so many valid reasons for why people leave companies, and bad leadership doesn’t always have anything to do with it. Without having any data to back this up, I’d guess that there are more people who leave because of some of these reasons than people who leave because of bad leadership.

If you work in a booming industry there are so many opportunities that it’s sometimes 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. 

This morning I retweeted the article below, because I thought it’s a really great perspective. But you can’t find a one-size-fits-all strategy. There will always be people who enjoy staying for 20 years, and some who enjoy changing landscapes every second or third. Nothing wrong with that. As long as you do quality work, who cares?

I’m all in for good leadership. I’m all in for following great leaders around 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 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.