3 Leadership Mistakes That Make Employees Quit

3 Leadership Mistakes That Make Employees Quit

Today we’re going to be dissecting a recent article that focuses on 3 leadership mistakes that make their employees quit from the Harvard Business Review.

It’s quite a broad topic, but interestingly enough, the reasons why the employee feels they have no option but to quit come back to just a handful of key concepts which we talk about on the blog quite a lot.

It’s important to remember that leadership sets the tone in the organisation, and whether or not they’re ready to accept this fact can be the determining factor of whether or not the culture will have a vibrant, productive culture, or one with toxic behaviour that will eat up the productivity and people inside the organisation. Retaining staff is one of the biggest challenges facing organisations in the modern era.


It’s painful to see some management figures and leaders of an organisation essentially help push them out the door with bad behaviour, particularly when the employee in question has a lot to offer than organisation. While the management figures – and CEO – have an obligation to get the car moving in the right direction, I’ve seen this behaviour devolve to micro-managing, even bullying of staff that is not sustainable in both the short and long term. While leaders might have good intentions for the organisation as the reason behind their whip-cracking, the reality is, a little bit of empathy and understanding is necessary to be a good, effective leader. When you’ve taken the time out to see the world from your employee’s eyes, you’ll be able to make decisions and lead in a way that should inspire those around you, not simply leading with fear and intimidation. Even the smallest of leadership mistakes can make your employees quit, so keep a close eye on our list.

Finding great staff is difficult enough- it’s one of the most difficult feats when you’re operating an organisation, so in light of that fact, it’s important to discuss the leadership mistakes that more than often lead an individual to quit.

The Leadership Mistakes That Make Employees Quit

“The best leaders are the ones that can be transformative and empathetic, and get the most out of their employees with a simple, genuine connection that will encourage them to do their work to the best of their ability because they want to, not because they’re intimidated.”

Leading with Bias

The author of the piece, John Christiansen, who has a PhD says that “consumer studies show how much customers value being treated fairly by the companies they give their money to, and the same can be said for workers on the inside, giving up their time.

Leaders who are fair – without bias – are leaders who employees can trust, and a trusting manager-employee relationship defines the best workplaces, improves performance and is good for revenue.” The same applies for the reverse, where a lack of trust stemming from bad leadership can act to make an employee’s decision on whether or not to quit that little bit easier. Christiansen says, “think of it this way: if your employees don’t trust you to lead them down the right path, how will they come together and align their efforts to meet a shared goal? Put yourself in their shoes.

Would you want to work at a place without clear direction?” The authors states that one of the best ways to combat this is for the leadership team to practice self-awareness, and to be more empathetic to how their actions and leadership styles make their staff members feel. “Before you make an important decision,” Christiansen says, “consider what is driving you. Are you basing your choices off of evidence, or preference? Have you considered other perspectives? Are there any gaps in your knowledge you need to fill first? Asking for regular feedback from your team, and acting on it, will also build a culture of fairness and open communication.”


On that note, let’s move to what I’d argue is the most important pillar in this discussion: whether or not the culture you’ve built up in your organisation is conducive to creativity, teamwork, productivity and high-level performances from your staff members that aren’t based on fear or intimidation.

More specifically, the report mentions how important it is to create an atmosphere that is psychologically safe for its employees. This constitutes an environment where “employees fear their thoughts or ideas will be met with repercussions,” Christiansen says. “Employees who do not feel psychologically safe are more prone to error, and less likely to take risks, participate in healthy conflict or grow in their roles.”

On the flipside, however, the author notes that employees that do feel psychologically safe are more productive and innovative as a result of that sense of comfort and belonging. I’d argue that this ties closely in with the concept of empathy: organisations that can see the world from the viewpoint of their employees are much more likely to set realistic goals and project deadlines, as well as appreciate the employee’s efforts when a challenging task was ticked off.

So while your employees have an obligation to put in their best efforts, the leadership team also has a set of obligations – which are often forgotten in day to day operating – to create an environment that helps those employees do their job. Don’t ignore just how important this point is in terms of the 3 leadership mistakes that make employees quit.

Inconsistent Goals and Expectations

This is more than likely something that you’ve had first-hand experience with in one form or another. I’m in two minds about it, because I do believe that the founder or CEO of an organisation needs to have extremely high ambitions and goals to direct the organisation, however, this can become detrimental if the goal is ultimately unrealistic. Christiansen says that “when employees are forced to choose between tasks in order to meet competing expectations, the result is a team of stressed out people without clear priorities,” meaning that leaders or organisations that ask the world of their employees are likely to be handed resignation letters rather than results in exchange.

The author says that you can create the necessary stability for your staff by “being consistent and clear with your expectations. Write them down- even if it is only for yourself – to see if any contradict or overlap. Then, make necessary changes and share. In doing so, you will empower your team to ease their stress and by giving a greater sense of control over their tasks… Most importantly, you will be making work a more pleasant place to be.”

These are just under half of the examples that the author has noted in his report on Harvard Business Review, and I’d encourage you to check out the rest because they provide an invaluable insight into how the actions of managers and CEOs can jeopardise the profitability and sustainability of an organisation from the inside out. Too often, an air of intimidation is implicit in the manager’s behaviour, which I’ve realised for a number of years now simply doesn’t work.

Now that we’ve talked about the 3 leadership mistakes that make employees quit, it’s important to remember that the best leaders are the ones that can be transformative and empathetic, and get the most out of their employees with a simple, genuine connection that will encourage them to do their work to the best of their ability because they want to, not because they’re intimidated.

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