Why Leaders Flee
A Tale of Two Organizations
One organization was a for-profit and well-respected, with revenue growth of 15% per year and generally thought of as on the way up. The other was a non-profit, well-respected in the community, gaining hundreds of new attendees every year and generally thought of as on the way up. Both organizations had a mandate to grow leaders.
The for-profit harvested fresh MBAs from Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg and other high-octane B-schools to populate corner offices and lead the common folk. They provided these new grads with some authority, though few needed permission to whip the employees into shape.
The non-profit built a leadership program and invited people in for up to three years of hands-on experience. People came from all over the world to participate—for no pay—and were given all sorts of jobs to organize among the constituency.
In both organizations, the new leaders were issued mandates, which they interpreted and issued to the employees (for-profit) and constituents (non-profit). And work began.
“Well done,” said the top leadership to each other. “Things are getting done. These are the leaders we need.”
And so it seemed as they looked from the top down.
But from the bottom up, things looked different.
The employees and constituents realized the newly-installed leaders had energy but not experience. Worse: they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Even worse: the organizational leaders were now only talking with the newly-installed neophytes. The employee and constituent voices—the ones that shouted in joy at a shared mission and offered small course corrections the leaders had previously listened to—could no longer be heard. And as they realized this, the able thinkers, the natural doers, the low-key champions of the larger mission and the natural leaders started making exit plans to find a new place where they could again have a voice in the mission.
And while both organizations seemed instantly more efficient, their poverty would not become apparent for several years.