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Why Your Leaders Leave You and How to Retain Them: Get Prepared!

By Sameer Kamboj, SKC World

Leadership attrition refers to a phenomenon when top level management or partners exit an organisation. There are many reasons and explanations given for it by the leaders. But how do we know the exact reasons for leadership attrition, and how can one manage this kind of attrition? This article attempts to cover these questions.

Primary Reasons for Attrition

1. Leadership, vision, and values – A leader represents and executes the vision of the founders through leading their people towards a common organisational goal. Since an organisation is a pool of people with diverse desires and roles, a leader plays this critical role of bringing them under the common umbrella and achieving a common organisational goal. However, this achievement is useful only when it is accomplished in harmony with the organisation’s vision and values.

This is never an easy equation to solve. In their impatience, leaders often take impulsive decisions that cost them and/or the organisation heavily. Stress and conflicts created due to such situations is often a cause of attrition.

2. Mismatched values and intent – Another major reason for attrition is a mismatch between a leader’s personal values and intent and those of the organisation. The values and intents of a person are deeply embedded and hence are varied. They are formed by deep conditioning and differ for every individual and when the views of the organisation and that of the leader are divergent, the leader decides to leave due to their personal disagreement that they are unable to bridge.

3. Unfulfilled desires – Desires usually exist at a subconscious and unconscious level and, over time, when these desires are not fulfilled, a leader decides to make an exit. The desires are not only in the form of monetary terms but also emotional in nature. When these remain unfulfilled, a human feels vulnerable and act out of sheer inner agitation.

4. Mismatch in pace of growth – Many times, when a leader who is dynamic and evolving is in an organisation that is stagnant or regressive, an aspirational conflict occurs, leading to separation. Similarly, in a rapidly growing organisation with a leader who is unable to keep pace and evolve, attrition is the end result.

5. Poor emotional maturity – People coming in from diverse cultures witness multiple emotional conflicts. These occur purely due to poor communication and misplaced presumptions in people’s minds. Some people have a habit of not speaking while some have a habit of speaking too much. A broad culture gets established in an organisation over time, either of explicit expression or of implicit expression. In her book “The Culture Maps”, author Erin Meyer describes emotional maturity depending on the culture an employee belongs to. This is certainly another big reason for attrition.

How to Avoid It?

1. Talk about vision and values – In order to avoid attrition in an organisation, it is very important to discuss in detail the values and vision of the organisation; only if the leader’s values match with the organisation and they are able to adapt to the organisation’s vision should they enter the organisation.

2. Remove personal assumptions – Personal objections are removed through clear discussions and debates. The more clarity in the beginning, the better their time in the organisation will be in the future. But if in any scenario there are certain issues by either of the parties, they should be brought out and discussed, as there is no problem which cannot be solved by communication. For example, a leader with poor performance may be struggling with some personal financial issues, and if he/she goes and discusses it with the person concerned, then some consensus can be achieved without attrition taking place.

3. Overcome the skill gap – Sometimes a leader is overburdened with responsibilities and does not know how to manage their work effectively and thinks quitting the workplace is the only solution. But, on the contrary, he/she could go to the concerned authority and with proper counselling and discussions the problem could be easily solved.

4. Instil trust in leadership – As a promoter/business owner, one expects that the leader would be committed to the organisation, but the organisation in turn may not instil the same trust in the leader. As humans we all crave for belonging, trust, respect, and security and, if that is not provided by the organisation, how one can expect the leader to be a part of the organisation. The growth of every single individual in the organisation is the growth of the whole organisation and hence, in order to avoid leadership attrition one needs to keep in mind that people run an organisation and not machines. In order to retain them there needs to be a deep-rooted understanding between both the leaders and the organisation in order to be successful.

5. Clear transition plans – Even if the match between company’s leaders and the organisation’s values, goals, and culture fits perfectly well, and if the communication within the organisation is exemplary, there should be a transition plan. Sometimes there are reasons you cannot influence or avoid — leaders might retire, become ill, or relocate to a different region for family reasons.

6. Planning succession – Many leaders of well-structured companies do not have a transition plan for themselves. Developing a strategy for small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) is especially important, since many firms might not have a huge supply of talents with the ability and desire to take over the company or a key leadership role. It is not only the top executives who need successors; long-time employees in key roles must define how they will handle the departure of decades worth of knowledge and skills that may be lacking among remaining staff.

Attrition is a natural phenomenon in any organisation, yet its unplanned nature causes stress and distress.

As a leader, you have a responsibility to plan for what happens when you and your key employees are not there anymore. Even if it seems to be far away, do not wait, but start planning now.


Sameer Kamboj

Sameer Kamboj

GGI member firm
SKC World
Advisory, Auditing & Accounting, Tax
New Delhi, India
T: +91 11 41324 619
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Published: GGI Insider, No. 109, September 2020 l Photo: Gorodenkoff - stock.adobe.com

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