Employees Don’t Leave Organizations, They Leave Bad Bosses

There is often confusion in differentiating between leaders and bosses. Bosses command, while leaders lead. Bosses demand, while leaders persuade. Bosses are autocratic, while leaders are democratic. Bosses avenge, while leaders forgive.

“People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader works in the open, and the boss in covert. The leader leads, and the boss drives.”—Theodore Roosevelt

There is a popular saying that employees don’t leave organizations, they leave their leaders. The same saying can be reframed in different ways. It conveys a message that although employees like their organizations, they leave them due to differences with their immediate bosses or superiors. Additionally, there is a myth that employees leave organizations only for money. In fact, they look beyond money. Other reasons for leaving include improper equation with their immediate superiors, organizational politics, lack of interest in the job, ego clashes with their peers, and stress. Research shows that 50 percent of employees have a shaky relationship with their superiors. It is a cause for concern globally. Due to bad bosses, employee morale sinks, productivity tanks, and attrition goes up.

Globally, more employees are disengaged from their work. Are they disengaged due to their personal problems or due to the differences with their immediate superiors? There are many reasons, but when we look at it holistically, it is due to the lack of chemistry between bosses and subordinates. Bosses are under pressure to perform. Hence, they allocate their roles and responsibilities to their subordinates based on competencies and capabilities. Unfortunately, some subordinates are unable to perform due to lack of knowledge in their area or inability to execute their tasks or due to the dominating behavior of bad bosses.

Tools and Techniques to Retain Employees

Let’s look at some tools and techniques to overcome this challenge to retain employees.

Mary Kay Ash once remarked, “People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.”

Thus, value people as people, not as workers. Emphasize organizational culture and healthy organizational climate. Remember the slogan, “What goes around comes around.

Companies can organize exit interviews with employees who are leaving to find out the reasons. They can utilize 360-degree feedback to ensure that the right talent doesn’t leave the organization. If an employee is found to be a liability, he or she may be asked to leave. If an employee is found to be an asset, he or she must be allowed to work under other leaders and supervisors to enable the talent to stay within the organization. At times, it happens that the talent is not allowed to stay within the organizations due to organizational politics. Employees who are incompetent often are scared of competent employees in the workplace as the latter pose a severe threat to their survival. They play petty politics to remove the talented employees. Some of the superiors behave like bosses rather than as leaders and cause discomfort to their employees. Some of the superiors are highly egoistic and they become too big for their shoes. Some superiors have wrong perceptions about their subordinates, leading to constant ill will and distrust. Some situations with superiors are instigated by rivals among the subordinates. There are innumerable reasons for lack of chemistry between superiors and subordinates in the workplace.

A Case Study on Autocratic Leadership

Mark retired from the military in a senior position. He looked for employment in the corporate sector. After many trials, he got a job in an educational institution as a CEO. Mark’s responsibility was to unite the various departments and work smoothly with teaching and non-teaching staff. He was excited with the offer and started to coordinate among various departments. He started to interfere with the teaching styles of faculty members, which was not appreciated because each faculty member had his or her own style of teaching. He conducted frequent meetings of Heads of the Departments (HODs) of all branches.

At times, he behaved like an autocrat with faculty. The principal of the educational institution did not like the pressure Mark exerted nor his excessive interference. Mark encouraged feedback from faculty members, but some gave negative feedback to their colleagues due to envy. This taxed relations among the faculty members and led to ill will and distrust. In response, the faculty often complained to the principal about Mark’s excessive interference.

Ultimately, the faculty went on strike, which paralyzed the functioning of the educational institution. Management intervened and asked CEO Mark to leave the institution in order to contain any further damage to the institution.

It is obvious from this story that what worked in the military often does not work in civil organizations—and especially in educational institutions.

Be a Leader, Not a Boss

During my 34 years of diversified experience, I have come across many people talking ill of their bosses—although not of their organizations. Many people have left their bad bosses while regretting having to leave good organizations. Therefore, the challenge lies with bosses who must reinvent themselves as leaders. There is often confusion in differentiating between leaders and bosses. People use these terms synonymously without appreciating the difference between the two. It is true that employees prefer to work with leaders rather than under bosses. Bosses command, while leaders lead. Bosses demand, while leaders persuade. Bosses are autocratic, while leaders are democratic. Bosses avenge, while leaders forgive.

These are the days of partnership, when people consider everyone to be partners within the organization. The days of command-and-control don’t work any longer. Therefore, superiors must strive to become leaders rather than bosses to ensure career growth for themselves and others. Leaders must reinvent themselves with the changing times and technologies to keep pace with the prevailing global trend to stay ahead of their times.


The role of a leader role is to get the job done by others smoothly and successfully. When leaders are too conscious of their positions or if they become too proud, they become bosses. When excessive ego creeps into leaders, they behave like superheroes and neglect the egos, emotions, and feelings of others and start behaving as bosses.

Employees must empathize with the pressures of their leaders and must come out their comfort zones rather than blaming their leaders. They must continuously acquire knowledge about their domain and rise up to the expectations of their leaders. Above all, they must realize that they might find another boss in the next organization who may be worse than their present boss. The best thing is to understand the fact that challenges exist in every organization and act accordingly. Ultimately, it is essential to get along with others in the workplace with empathy and compassion by appreciating the constraints and compulsions to achieve organizational excellence and effectiveness.

“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”—Albert Einstein

Professor M.S.Rao, Ph.D., is an international leadership guru and leadership educator, executive coach, speaker, and consultant. He has 34 years of experience and is the author of 30 books including 21 Success Sutras for Leaders (http://www.amazon.com/21-Success-Sutras-Leaders-ebook/dp/B00AK98ELI) that was ranked as one of the Top 10 Leadership Books of the Year – 2013 by San Diego University. His award-winning book “Success Tools for CEO Coaches: Be a Learner, Leader, and Ladder,” is the Community Award Winner for 2014 by Small Business Trends (http://bookawards.smallbiztrends.com/management-2014/success-tools-for-ceo-coaches-8/). His award-winning book, “Smart Leadership: Lessons for Leaders”  (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D9S8SCW) has been published as a Spanish language e-book. His vision is to build 1 million students as global leaders by 2030 (http://professormsraovision2030.blogspot.in). He has been honored as an upcoming International Leadership Guru by Leadership Gurus International (http://www.globalgurus.org/leadership/upcoming.php) and listed as one of the leading achievers around the world in Marquis Who’s Who in the World in 2013. He serves as an advisor and judge for several international organizations, including Global Leadership Awards, Malaysia. He received the International Coach of the Year 2013 Award from Comprehensive Coaching U, Inc. http://www.terrilevine.com/coachoftheyear/winners.html Professor Rao coined an innovative teaching tool called Meka’s Method; a leadership teaching tool, 11E Leadership Grid; and a new leadership tool called Soft Leadership Grid, based on his new leadership style, “Soft Leadership” copyrighted with Jossey Bass. He led a Webinar on Soft leadership organized by International Leadership Association (http://www.ila-net.org/Webinars/Archive/Rao082012.html). A No.1 ranked speaker in India, reviews can be found at: http://speakerpedia.com/speakers/professor-msrao. Books can be found at: www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/A16SKI0396UBRP. Most of his work is available free of charge in his three blogs http://profmsr.blogspot.com http://professormsrao.blogspot.com and http://professormsraoguru.blogspot.com Contact him via e-mail at msrlctrg@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @professormsrao.


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