We have all heard it, “people don’t leave organizations, they leave managers.” The problem is I am not so sure it’s true. I realize it’s a fairly big leap to challenge great researchers like Marcus Buckingham or the Gallup organization, but the research simply is not my experience and my guess is that it isn’t your experience either.
“Great organizations, develop great policies and practices, that empower great leaders, to lead great teams.”
I was driving home from work on a Wednesday afternoon when I received the phone call that all adoptive parents wait for. With almost no notice we were becoming parents of a beautiful little girl. In a matter of minutes our plans went from our evening workout and where we would go out to dinner to how we would explain to our employers that we were expanding our family TOMORROW.
I had recently started with a new company and had almost no paid time off or FMLA eligibility. I was in a pickle to say the least. My plan was to go in to work, explain the situation and propose to take a day of paid time off, work from home one more day and be back in the office on Monday. It seemed reasonable, but I was still apprehensive. I was in uncharted territory with a new boss at a new organization.
When I arrived in the office my boss and our Executive Director called me into a conference room. I immediately jumped into my plan for how the work would get done. Our Executive Director stopped me. He said, “Mario, congratulations. I have a meeting to get to but this is a big moment and I wanted to come in and congratulate you first thing.” He then looked at my boss and said, “I trust that you can take it from here” and he walked out of the room. I had no idea what was happening. Was this some kind of good cop, bad cop situation? Was I going to get fired?
As the door closed my boss said, “Mario, I am going to talk to you as a father. I appreciate your plan but you need more than a day and a half with your daughter.” He went on, “I know you don’t have much paid time and aren’t eligible for FMLA, so here is what we are going to do. You are going to take 2 weeks paid under our parental leave policy. You are going to make me a list of the projects you are working on. I am going to run downstairs and get you a gift card because you need a car seat and when I get back, you are leaving to pick up your little girl. Your job will be here when you get back.”
I am not an emotional guy. I can count the times I have cried since I was 10 years old on one hand, but when he said that my eyes filled up with tears and for a guy who speaks in front of people for a living I could hardly get out, “Thank you.” I was overwhelmed and incredibly proud to work for a boss and an organization that cared about me enough to give me time with my new little girl. Why did this have such an impact on me? Because I knew what had just happened was incredibly uncommon. Simply doing the right thing for your people and trusting they will reciprocate through effort and loyalty is rare. I went on to deliver some of the greatest projects of my career over the next 3 years with that boss and organization and even when presented with an outstanding opportunity elsewhere, leaving was one of the hardest things I have ever done.
“It is hard to be a great boss in a bad culture, but it is even harder to be a bad boss in a great culture.”
So back to people don’t leave organizations, they leave managers. My boss in this scenario was awesome. Easily the best manager I have ever worked for. But he was not great on his own. He was great because he was the right fit for an organization that empowered him to be a great leader. Great organizations, develop great policies and practices, that empower great leaders, to lead great teams. My boss could not have just given me two weeks off paid. The parental leave policy was in place long before I needed it. Sure, he made it easier on me, but the decision was already made for him. He simply executed the organizations policy with empathy and compassion. Even the gift card was a part of a discretionary fund set up for employees in situations like this. People do leave bad bosses, but more times than not, the bad bosses are employed by organizations that do not have the culture in place to support great leadership. The boss may get blamed, but ultimately the actions of the boss are dictated by the culture and policies the organization puts in place. The organization dictates what the culture is, the boss controls how it is implemented. Bottom line. It is hard to be a great boss in a bad culture, but it is even harder to be a bad boss in a great culture.
What do you think? Who has the most influence over the employee experience, the organization, the boss or both?
Mario D. Kyriakides,