Why our Best Volunteers & Staff Leave

It hurts when people leave. It’s been said that people don’t quit organizations, they quit people.
There are a million reasons why, over time, we can lose talented volunteers or staff members. Sometimes it’s circumstantial. Other times, it’s just a natural pattern of growth and development. But not always, and probably not often.  In reviewing a recent article in Forbes magazine on why top talent leaves business, here are some trends that tend to surface as common reasons people become disenfranchised.

  • We Stop Leading With Vision – Vision matters. It creates momentum and excitement. When we lead with vision and with “why,” we’re doing something that makes people move from renters to owners. Vision births passion.
  • We Don’t Allow People to Unleash Their Passions – It’s vital to keep people engaged and to align their passions with opportunities. When people are passionate about something, they not only want to do it…they have to do it. When we miss the chance to align passion and purpose, we fail our best people.
  • We Control Rather Than Trust – Great people want to be trusted. They won’t be capable of sticking around if they feel they need to be micro-managed. Will they mess up? Yes. Will they do things different than we think they should? Probably. But growth – for them and for our organization – requires sharing not just the responsibility but also the authority. This creates leaders that will learn from you and your systems and help lead and coach other leaders.
  • We Lack of Creative Engagement – Creative people want to make things better. Our best people want to add value to our organizations. They love to challenge and questions. They seek opportunities to engage and innovate. We have to free our best people to soar and do their best work.
  • We Don’t Coach – Learners are leaders. We’re all on a journey and all want to get better, smarter, and more valuable. Make sure we’re creating a culture that puts a premium on coaching and learning.
  • We Stop Challenging – We’re responsible to challenge our best people. Challenge them to be their best, do their best, and to engage using their skills, intelligence, and resource. If people become bored and aren’t given challenges, they will go find someplace where they can be pushed to be better.
  • We Don’t Create Venues for their Voice – Make sure we’re giving our best people room to have a voice. Leaders can’t make their best decisions if they only have one opinion or one set of data. Our best people have valuable information and opinions to share. If we don’t listen, we’ll miss this important information.
  • We Cared more about the Result than the Person – People Matter. When people feel we care more about their product than we do about their person, we’ll lose them. It’s messy and takes valuable time, but it’s the best investment we can make. Put a premium on people and we won’t have to worry about the product…it will take care of itself.
  • We Never Shared the Love – Never take the credit, always take the responsibility. Sharing the credit and promoting the “team” builds value and trust. When we use people for our agenda, we destroy morale. When things are good, it’s all about the team. When things are off, it’s all about the leader.
  • We Over Promised / Under Delivered – Always. It helps people feel like they are winning and when we’re on winning streaks we’re much more content and engaged.
  • We Provided Responsibility, but not Authority – It never works. If quality people are held to a certain level of responsibility but do not have the necessary authority, they will vanish. People will gladly accept challenges when they feel they are empowered to lead.

We don’t have to pay attention to these opportunities. But if we don’t, someone else will and one day we’ll look around and wonder what happened to our most talented people and why they’re all working together, enjoying life, creating momentum, and changing the world in another organization.

What would you add to this list?


22 comments Add yours
  1. I love this post because it hurts. It reminds me of the ways I neglect nurturing people by being out of focus. For me, I have to be careful to coach enough before releasing my creatives to fly. Sometimes I throw them out there without wings when they need just a little more encouragement, and a couple more tools.

    Also, keep up the hustle!

  2. Wow. This article really hit home for me. I recently quit a long-time leadership position in a ministry at church for all of these reasons. I deciphered some of these reasons myself but this was helpful in articulating other reasons I felt, but couldn’t word myself. I am meeting with a pastor about why I quit and this article is really going to help me explain things. Thank you!

  3. The only thing I would add is to the trust one – not trusting enough is one aspect but also breaking trust (withholding valuable info, using volunteers, not following through with what has been said, etc). Broken trust is tough to rebuild.

    Great list for our roles on both sides of the list

  4. Inspiring way to look at “How can I better invest in these emerging leaders?” Nice job with this. Shared with all my teams as we manage whole departments and even small groups with an eye to building up leaders and turning them loose. Well done.

  5. Absolutely. All of it. Plus what Adam said. Plus every other comment. Plus you’re a genius.

    As a leader, I struggle with finding the balance between trusting/delegating and releasing too soon- I have often made the mistake, especially when I used to have interns at Mocha Club, of letting them run with a project without giving enough boundaries/direction/expectation. In my rush to let them be creative, I didn’t instruct. Their failures, as they saw them, almost every time were due to my poor leadership- not their lack of trying. And it was frustrating for them.

    I hope I’m getting better at it.

    Amen. 🙂

  6. You totally nailed it. Leading is never easy…especially leading those pesky creatives, like me. After ten years of trying, I just recently left a leadership position I loved for at least 6 of the reasons above. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. Thanks for articulating it so well.

  7. In May of 2012 I resigned as a campus pastor in a church that I believed I would retire from. Since then, there have been five more full time staff that have resigned and it appears that in the next couple months they will most likely lose a few more. When we started 2012 we had a total of twelve full time staff members, and by the the time my resignation reaches its one year anniversary there will likely be eight full time staff resignations. Outside of the lead pastor, that is close to a 73% turnover in one year’s time. That’s not a lot…its almost everyone.

    In my experience, the leader of that church mirrors eight of the ten reasons on the Forbes list, and this turnover reflects that. We have had creative people leave, experienced ministry staff, loyal support staff and our whole executive team. For one reason or another on this list someone has left or will leave in the future.

    I really wish there was more about the ways that failed leadership influences staff turnover in churches. The only cases that we hear about are those that involve some sort of huge sexual sin or affair of the lead pastor. Sadly, factors like the ones that you mention here (from Forbes) cause far more turnover than those grievous sins that make the headlines.

    Thanks so much for posting this on.


  8. I’ve seen more volunteers leave over the years due to:
    1. Micro management from the Senior pastor where ideas are either ignored or creatively smothered over time with the “well we don’t do that”
    2. Lack of real ability to change ministry team directions
    3. Lack of recognition for creativity or original work
    4. The curse of perfection: Our ___ team must do things with quality so we never are free to make mistakes. It sets the bar so high that staff shakes their head wondering why it’s so hard to recruit.

    So far with a few exceptions I’ve seen no flashes of insight from the fellow who needs to have it. I rarely worry about it anymore and I sleep a bit better.

    I’d love us to make more mistakes and glorify God and empower people to be the creative forces they want to be.

  9. Churches can get so hung up on seekers,recruiting,and “emerging leaders” that they sometimes forget about those who helped build,perhaps literally ,that church. Many churches are experiencing ten percent or greater
    losses in attendance and related financial problems. Are they reading this article ?

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