People are more likely to leave a bad boss than a bad job: What this says about leadership

Leadership burnout

Source: Unsplash/CoWomen.

Does leadership matter?

To address this question, all we have to do is reflect on our own experiences of work. 

Most of us will spend more time working than performing any other activity. And the people we work with and for have a massive influence on our lives. 

We know that people are more likely to leave a bad boss than a bad job.

And in Dying for a Paycheck, Jeffrey Pfeffer explains the MAYO clinic has found the person you report to is more important to your health than your family doctor.

When you take a minute to consider this, it’s staggering. But, not hard to believe. 

So, what does this say about leadership? 

Well, a few things.

First and foremost, the position of ‘boss’ does not make someone a leader. But it does give them influence (for better or for worse) over the work, lives, and wellbeing of those who report to them. 

Second, when people are unwell and unhappy at work, they do not work well. They are not engaged, and they do not perform at their potential. 

Third, it is a function of leadership to bring out the best in people. Leadership involves connection and social influence. It involves connecting people to the best of themselves, to each other, and to a common purpose. Leadership is about bringing people together and maximising collective effort towards a common goal. 

Now think back to your own experiences of work, or sport or volunteering. No doubt you can recall a time when you felt… less than inspired. When you put in less than your best effort, and when your outcomes suffered.

You lost the game, lost the client, missed the bid, ended up not liking the work, or hating the job.

You may have even ended up getting sick.

In these instances, there’s a good chance you experienced a lack of leadership.

You might have had a boss, a manager, a supervisor, or a captain. They might have even had ‘leader’ in their job title. But the process of leadership was missing. 

Now think about a time when you have experienced leadership. When you’ve experienced success. When you’ve had the win, gotten the job done, exceeded expectations. Or, maybe you didn’t quite have the win, but you know full well that you and everyone around you, put in their very best effort.

It might not have been your ‘boss’ that made this happen, but it was leadership that made it happen.

You see, leadership is a process, not a position or a single person.

Leadership is the process of people coming together and maximising their collective effort towards a common purpose. Sometimes, (ideally often), this process is enabled by individual leaders.

But not always.

When leadership is lacking, the negative ramifications on individuals and organisations can be severe. The wellbeing and performance of those for whom the ‘boss’ is responsible suffer. 

And when good leadership happens, potential is unleashed. People come together, they bring the best of themselves, and they engage in a collective effort towards a common purpose. 

Again, leadership is not something done by a single individual and it is not only the work of whoever is at the top of the team or organisation.

Leadership is something we all have a part to play in. It is about stepping up and coming together to make new and better and good things happen. 

So, yes. Leadership does matter. A lot. 

The big question is, how do we do leadership well? 

We have been attempting to answer that question for literally thousands of years. And today we have countless theories, ideas, experts — some self-proclaimed and some actual — all attempting to explain how to do good leadership. 

The only hints I’ll offer at this point, are that good leadership is not determined by any individual traits such as how tall you are, how good looking you are, how loud you are, how rich and successful you are, what your gender is, what your skin colour is, how well educated you are, or how much power you wield. 

Good leadership is about who you are at your core and how you live and move in the world — and learning how to lead well is a lifelong pursuit. 

Welcome to the journey! 


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