. 32
( 40 .)


the case today. Leaders are more like orchestra conductors, blending the
efforts of the most skilled musicians.
So what kind of competence do employees expect from leaders today?
At the most basic level, they simply want to know that the organization
will be successful, assuring them of a job and a future. Because so many
businesses fail, this is unfortunately a promise that many employers cannot
deliver. So, as a prerequisite for becoming an employer of choice, an em-
ployer must be successful currently and inspire the con¬dence of workers
that it will be successful going forward.
It is natural that we look to the leaders for this assurance. We want our
leaders to have a clear and achievable vision, con¬dence in their capacity
to achieve the vision, the ability to inspire and mobilize followers to
achieve the vision, the ability to transform the vision into a workable strat-
egy and plan, the right team of people in place to carry it out, and the
ability to follow through with persistence to achieve the plan. And while
they are at it, we require complete honesty and integrity, and, yes, please
show us you care about us as individuals. This is a tall order, but we demand
nothing less.
We may want servant leaders, but we do not want ˜˜soft™™ leaders. In
his best-seller, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others
Don™t, Jim Collins studies the leaders of companies that achieved and sus-
tained exceptional ¬nancial performance over a ¬fteen-year period. He
describes them as ˜˜Level 5™™ leaders”executives who ˜˜build enduring
greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional
As an example, Collins pro¬les Cork Walgreen, CEO of Walgreen
Drugs, a man of ¬erce resolve who saw that the company™s future lay in
convenient drugstores, not in the food service business it had built. He
challenged his executive team to get the company out of the restaurant
business within ¬ve years. At the time, Walgreens had 500 restaurants, but

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

the CEO was ¬rm and fanatical in his vision, which turned out to be the
right one.
Walgreen and all the other CEOs of the good-to-great companies did
not ¬t the mold of the attention-seeking, heroic CEOs who were glori¬ed
in the press during the 1980s and 1990s. In fact, all these executives were
described by their associates as rather quiet, self-effacing, and humble. ˜˜It™s
not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest,™™ writes Collins. ˜˜In-
deed, they are incredibly ambitious”but their ambition is ¬rst and fore-
most for the institution, not themselves.™™11
Collins also pro¬les George Cain, CEO of Abbott Laboratories, who
turned the pharmaceutical company around by courageously attacking its
greatest weakness”nepotism. Cain, who had been with the company for
eighteen years when he took over as CEO, instituted new standards of
excellence for every position and rigorously raised the talent level of the
management team by gradually replacing mediocre family members with
the best professionals he could ¬nd.
While he cares deeply about his people, Jet Blue™s David Neeleman
appears to be cast in the same mold as other ˜˜Level 5™™ leaders, although
only time will tell if he can sustain the ¬nancial success he attained in the
airline™s ¬rst ¬ve years of operation. He is ¬rm about his ˜˜tripod™™ business
model: ˜˜low costs, a great product, and capitalization.™™ But Neeleman
knows his limitations. Because he had never run a large company before,
he surrounded himself with senior executives who had.12
Humble, yet passionately determined, Neeleman and the other chief
executives brie¬‚y pro¬led here are the kinds of leader that today™s work-
force seems to ¬nd most engaging. Bottom line: it™s not about ego, quick
results, and personal ambition”it™s about patiently, quietly, but tenaciously,
executing a shared, compelling vision with a valued and dedicated team.

Engagement Practice 53: Back Up Words with Actions

Followers are more interested in
our integrity than in our
speeches about integrity, and
their antennae are sensitive and
ef¬cient to any possible
”L® S®

R® #·: L ¦ Tµ ®¤ C®¦©¤® ©® S®© L¤ 189

One of the greatest sources of employee cynicism and disengagement is the
failure of leaders to do as they say. We have grown tired of CEOs who say
˜˜people are our most important asset,™™ but cut back training budgets with-
out blinking; or those who survey employees as if they intend to follow
through with corrective action, but never do; or leaders who say quality is
number one, but push employees to do the work in a third of the time it
takes to do it right; or CEOs who say that treating people right is a priority
for all managers, but fail to hold managers accountable for abusing employ-
ees. It™s all just more fodder for Dilbert cartoons. Leaders who can™t, or
won™t, back up their good intentions with actions might as well be deliber-
ately driving people out of their organizations.

Words and Deeds out of Synch
A major international corporation that claimed to be committed to
work/life values drew up an excellent plan to help managers incorpo-
rate work/life balance into the business. The company gathered its
top 80 of¬cers to review the plan”but scheduled the meeting on a

Someone once compared trust to money in a bank account. If people
meet our expectations over time, we put coins in the bank and after a while
they have earned our trust. If they don™t meet our expectations, we take
coins out. When it comes to our employers, the more coins we take out,
the closer we come to closing our accounts and walking out the door for
Some leaders are so externally focused that they make feel-good state-
ments in speeches and annual reports with no apparent awareness that what
they are saying may be inconsistent with internal realities. One company
displayed its code of conduct in its lobby, proclaiming that ˜˜trust™™ was a
driving principle, yet it searched employees™ belongings each time they
entered and exited the building.
Everyone has a story to tell about the mixed signals companies send.
What can employers do about it? Probably the best insurance is to have a
CEO who places a high value on integrity and insists on carefully selecting
executives and candidates for all positions based on character ¬rst and capa-
bilities second.
Some companies conduct surveys in which employees are asked to
rank a variety of cultural factors based on how strongly they desire it versus

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

how much they believe it exists in the organization. The larger the ˜˜gap™™
scores, the greater the discrepancy between the actual and desired culture
on those factors. Follow-up employee focus groups conducted by outside
consultants can help bring to the surface speci¬c issues that senior leaders
need to face and reconcile. While this process may be facilitated by HR
staff, it needs to be owned by senior line managers.
Often, the mixed signals may be created by executives espousing one
thing and middle managers doing another. Some managers believe that,
because of their privileged status, they are exempt from the rules that gov-
ern everyday life in the organization, such as having to be at work on time
or taking reasonable ˜˜lunch hours.™™
In one company, senior leaders solicited employee feedback and in-
vited ˜˜different ideas and perspectives™™ about how projects should be com-

It™s Not Just What We Do . . . It™s What We Won™t Do
Companies earn trust points not just for the consistency of their inter-
nal behavior, but also for the things they will and won™t do in their
interactions with the outside world. Employees at CenterBeam, Inc.
in Santa Clara, California are proud to tell these stories:
The company was trying to recruit enough talented people to
support its rapid start-up and had made an offer to a quali¬ed candi-
date when the resume of a superstar candidate came across the desk
of the hiring manager. Managers asked the CEO, Sheldon Laube, if
the offer could be rescinded so the company could hire the superstar.
Laube™s response: ˜˜No way. We made a promise to the ¬rst candidate.
If we™re going to be the kind of company that people trust, we™ve got
to keep our promises.™™
Shortly after that, the company ordered $500,000 worth of tape
drives from a distributor. Before they could unpack them they found
out that a rival distributor was offering comparable machines at a
price that could save the company almost $100,000 per year. A few
engineers wanted to refuse delivery of the more expensive tape drives,
but CenterBeam executives treated the shipment as binding.
CEO Laube has seen these decisions pay off by deepening the
commitment of CenterBeam employees: ˜˜It™s amazing how many
employees have come up to me and said, ˜It™s great to work at a
company that has integrity.™ Many employees tell me that at their old
companies, ˜people promised things that they just didn™t deliver.™ ™™14

R® #·: L ¦ Tµ ®¤ C®¦©¤® ©® S®© L¤ 191

pleted, but some project managers summarily shot down many of the new
ideas employees suggested. In these situations, multi-rater feedback from
managers, exit surveying, and regular employee surveys can help uncover
these demoralizing situations so they can be corrected.

Engagement Practice 54:
Place Your Trust and Con¬dence in Your Workforce
To demonstrate trust in people before they have even earned it is a risky
proposition. We may ¬nd out later that our trust was misplaced or even
betrayed. We may risk giving away our own power as leaders. We may
trust employees too much to make important decisions before they are
ready, thus jeopardizing a customer relationship. And yet, employers of
choice routinely take these risks and make a habit of trusting employees
before they have earned it.
Nordstrom department stores is famous for trusting its sales people with
the power to make on-the-spot decisions that build customer loyalty, even
if it means spending the company™s money to do it. When Bill Gore left
DuPont to start W. L. Gore and Associates in the basement of his house,
he recognized the importance of trusting employees with the independence
to make decisions that serve the interests of the organization.
To formalize this philosophy, Gore sent out a company memo outlin-
ing the concept of ˜˜the waterline,™™ likening employees to the crew of a
ship. Understandably, no employees would be allowed to drill holes below
the waterline, as that would endanger every crew member. They would be
allowed to drill holes above the waterline, but not below.
In other words, with every decision they faced, employees would ask
themselves, ˜˜is this decision above or below the waterline?™™ If they con-
cluded that the decision might signi¬cantly impact other crew members,
they would be obligated to consult further with more senior colleagues. If,
however, they concluded that the impact on other crew members would
be negligible, they were free to make their own judgments without con-
sulting more senior crew members.15
In his book Making the Grass Greener on Your Side: A CEOs Journey to
Leading by Serving, Ken Melrose tells the story of taking over as CEO at
Toro Company when the emphasis was on getting bottom-line results at
all costs. The company had been pushing so hard to get bigger that, some-
where along the way, its reputation for quality among its distributors and
customers eroded so badly that it was on the brink of bankruptcy.
Melrose and his executive team decided to put the emphasis on quality

The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave

and product excellence and aggressively reduced high ¬eld inventories.
Customer satisfaction became the new byword. At the same time, Melrose
became a convert to a servant leadership philosophy and began ˜˜driving
power down to the people who do the actual work and make things
He established what he called ˜˜four leadership imperatives”building
trust through openness; fostering risk-taking, innovation, and creativity;
practicing a coaching and serving role; and creating win-win situations.™™
He also installed an Employee Stock Ownership Plan so that the title of
˜˜owner™™ became more than symbolic.
Melrose credits the servant leader approach for the company™s revival,
pointing out that it runs against the grain of traditional corporate leadership,
which concentrates power and control at the top. ˜˜Ego addiction is the
main cause of management failure because it causes people in management
positions to suppose they know all, to hoard power, and to destroy trust.™™16
Sometimes managers learn by trial and error. When Gerald Chamales
founded Rhinotek Computer Products in Carson, California, he admits he
was ˜˜completely green™™ as a manager and found himself behaving in a
dictatorial way with his employees. He screamed at employees who didn™t
follow orders precisely and threw temper tantrums when employees failed
to measure up to his standards. As a result, he alienated his workforce.
Then he began to notice the company™s high turnover and began asking
himself if it might be connected to his own management style.
Chamales decided to change his approach”he learned to control his
temper, and started walking around his of¬ce and plant ¬‚oor soliciting feed-
back from his 200 employees. Turnover declined dramatically thereafter.
˜˜I™ve done everything in this company from sweeping ¬‚oors to typing
invoices, yet it is important to have humility and realize that the people
doing the jobs have the solutions.™™17
Ultimately, it boils down to simple human respect. In her book with a
one-word title”Respect”Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot describes her father™s
secret: ˜˜He gained respect by giving it. He talked to the fourth-grade kid
in Spring Valley who shined shoes the same way he talked and listened to
a bishop or a college president. He was seriously interested in who you
were and what you had to say.™™18
When senior leaders invest so much energy in their own self-impor-
tance that they cannot adopt this humbler attitude, they lose the opportu-
nity to engage and inspire. Many will never change their authoritarian,
micromanaging styles because they are not comfortable with the idea of
giving away power. The irony is, when leaders give power away, they

R® #·: L ¦ Tµ ®¤ C®¦©¤® ©® S®© L¤ 193

increase the collective power of the organization to innovate and meet new
challenges, thus enhancing their own power in the long run.

What the Employee Can Do to Build Reciprocal Trust
and Con¬dence
What could a lowly employee possibly do that would cause a senior leader
to inspire more trust and con¬dence? At ¬rst, we might respond ˜˜not
much.™™ But, while employees may not have much control, all employees
have some degree of in¬‚uence.
Here are some actions they can take to exercise the in¬‚uence they do


. 32
( 40 .)