Leadership Matters: Everyone Wants to Leave!

sad dog lying on wooden floor looking up at camera
Dan Rockwell Photo
Leadership Expert
Leadership Freak blog

2 minutes

How to get employees to stay at your organization after a bad experience with a previous leader

This post is republished with permission from the Leadership Freak blog.

Dear Dan,

I just inherited a team where they were publicly scrutinized, and now everyone wants to leave.
How do I get people to stay when the previous leadership “threw them under the bus”?

Leading Bruised People 


Dear LBP,

Meaningful leadership often buckles the knees. This challenge is your opportunity to shine. Tighten your belt. Show up with:

  • humility;
  • confidence;
  • forward-facing curiosity; and
  • resolve to build a vibrant environment.

Follow these five steps with your new team members to start rebuilding relationships and—hopefully—retain those employees.

1. Confirm the problem.

Offended people may overstate offenses. Speak to each team member privately. Tell them what you’ve heard. Ask them to describe the team dynamics—good or bad. Ask them to describe the behaviors that caused those dynamics.

2. Ask them to describe the team dynamics they would like to see. 

Focus on behaviors, not people.

3. Don’t ask them to stay.

Explain that you’d like them to stay, but you understand their reluctance. Tell them you will help them move on if that’s their choice. Don’t make them feel trapped or guilty.

Instead, call them to step up. “I wonder if you might be one of the people who helps us move forward?” On that note …

4. Practice humility.

Ask them to give you a chance to create a team environment where people thrive. Ask for their help. Be a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all. You don’t have the (only) answer.

Do express confidence that things will improve if you work together. Use words like, “I believe …” and “We ...”

5. Rebuild trust.

Publicly acknowledge public offenses. The extent of offenses determines the extent of corrective measures. If an offense happens behind closed doors then correction, restitution and/or reconciliation needs to happen behind closed doors. Apologize, even if you didn’t do anything wrong.

You’re the leader now. Don’t apologize for someone else’s offense but do apologize that your team was treated poorly. “I’m sorry you have been embarrassed publicly.”

Openly discuss, describe and commit to shared behaviors that move the team forward.

You have my best,

Dan Rockwell, based in central Pennsylvania, is freakishly interested in leadership. According to the Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness, his Leadership Freak blog is often the most socially shared leadership blog on the internet. An Inc. magazine Top 50 Leadership and Management Expert and Top 100 Great Leadership Speaker and an American Management Association Top 30 Leader in Business of 2014, Rockwell had his first leadership position in the non-profit world at age 19.

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