I recently received an email advertising the services of yet another training program. It began as follows: “When a valued employee leaves, good managers take it personally. And that’s exactly the way it should be.”
I’m sure some advertising guru, ensconced in glass, leather, and metal, heard this phrase whispered in his brain by whatever muse it is advertising gurus ascribe to, and was instantly convinced he had stumbled on the holy grail of opening line “grabbers” - one so profound that every person who read the email would stream to the company’s web page and begin hitting the “Buy” button like a punch-drunk boxer swinging away at the flock of seagulls that just went over.
I was not impressed.
I don’t remember what they were selling. I don’t remember the title of their courses. I don’t remember the name of the company. I don’t recall anything except those lines which I interpreted to mean that I should be cut to the quick by any ungrateful employee who takes advantage of my generosity, sucking me dry of my wisdom and knowledge, leaving me like an old slice of lime on a dry shot glass, while they run off to enjoy the fruits of my labors with nary a thought of owing me anything.
Then again, maybe I read just a little bit too much into what they said. But the phrase “…good managers take it personally. And that’s exactly the way it should be” stuck in my craw.
I couldn’t disagree more.
When someone reports to us, we have only one responsibility– to make that person better. Our job is to develop them. Our job is to teach them what we know. Our job is to impart the lessons we learned through hard knocks. Our job is to pass on the knowledge that was passed down to us. Our job is to make them better for having known us. And it doesn’t matter if that person is working for us as a direct report, as part of a matrix relationship, as a member of a task force, as an expert on an individual project, or as an auditor on one single audit. Our job is to make them better.
As leaders (remember, we are all leaders) we have to make people so good that everyone wants to hire them away. And then it is our job to make it tough for those people to leave by giving them opportunities they can’t find anywhere else and by making a work environment which they would be idiots for leaving. But, if we’ve done our job well, we will lose some good people.
I think everyone who has ever worked for me has heard this one at least once. “My job is to make your resume look better. Then my job is to try and make you want to stay.”
With that in mind, I’ve taken it as a point of pride when an individual who was working for me left for a better opportunity – for an opportunity to reap their own rewards from the knowledge they had gained. I did not take it personally when they left; I saw it (I still see it) as a point of pride.
When someone leaves, do not begrudgingly send them to that next assignment. Join with them in the excitement of a new job. Of course it isn’t easy losing valued employees. But, unless they are leaving under adverse circumstances (and you’d never let that happen, would you?), they are a testament to your skills as a supervisor, manager, and leader.
But it all starts with the recognition that your job is to make people better. From the moment someone comes under your sphere of influence, make them better. In every interaction, make them better. With every word of praise or admonishment, make them better. In the quiet moments and the moments of sheer panic and in the rush and scuttle of everyday circumstances and through the noise and through the pain and through the joys and through the foibles, follies, and fun of every day – make them better.
And then, celebrate when they move on to better things.