How Did You Stay?

The only thing worse – and it’s much, much worse – than someone leaving your organization because they are disconnected, disenchanted and disengaged, is when someone feels that way but decides instead to quit and stay.

Even in a great job market like we are experiencing right now, it’s a major inconvenience to research, apply for, interview and negotiate the terms of a new job. That process is made even harder in a toxic situation because it’s all done behind the back of one’s current employer.

I am familiar with an organization that is going through a period of difficult transition. They have been leaderless for some time and into that vacuum have crept many individualistic survivalist tendencies among those who remain. It is dispiriting to see some people going through the motions, looking out for themselves and checking the boxes on their responsibilities.

It also happens to be an organization with a clear and noble purpose, one that is so clear and noble that it might actually seem too simple to make the embrace of it the core strategy for getting back on track.

My encouragement to anyone, regardless of level or role, who is in this situation, who is deciding between quitting and staying and who does not wish to “quit and stay” is to begin a conversation about that purpose. It’s too easy to get caught up in the leader’s failings or the team’s misgivings as a replacement for the more essential conversation.

That conversation, among those who are willing, contains some difficult and powerful questions:

  1. Starting with myself, what attracted me to our purpose in the first place? What did I come here to do?
  2. How invested am I in that purpose today? How much do I care if it is fulfilled?
  3. Whom do I serve? And what is it that they need most from me and from us right now? Does it still energize me to play a part in meeting those needs?
  4. Who among my colleagues is also in this place of frustration and is also open to an honest and reflective inquiry? What conversation might I have with them about how to navigate this moment in our experience?
  5. What’s a next step I can take to reframe my experience, to challenge myself to see what might be possible in staying that will not be possible once I go?

What’s clear is that most of these questions are at the level of the individual because until we have a personal confrontation with what is fundamental, and do so with integrity, we will remain unable to do so with others.

These questions and ensuing conversations are anything but an easy path to take, but it’s one that is worth walking if you are not ready to consign yourself to a daily existence of present but not present.

“At least I didn’t leave when times got tough!”

“Yes, but how did you stay?”


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

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