One of the common dysfunctions of organizations is what I call “blaming those who leave.” Let me explain.

Some people will leave the organizations we lead. Usually, this is for good reasons. They move on. They grow. They spread their wings. It’s what we want. It’s actually a sign of a healthy organization.

This also happens when an organization isn’t doing well. People leave for all the reasons I mentioned above but also because they aren’t happy and can’t see a healthy future unfolding. We can’t stop them and shouldn’t try. Here’s a principle to remember: If people aren’t with you, they can’t stay, and if they are with you, they won’t leave. Don’t sweat departures.

None of this, however, is the dysfunction I’m addressing. No, the dysfunction is when an organization blames those who leave for what is wrong in the firm rather than taking an honest look at themselves.

I’m familiar with an organization that has had a lot of turnover in the last decade. Many executives have moved on. Each time one does, the conversation around the conference table at the firm lays the blame for what isn’t working on the person who just left. In fact, this has become such a habit in this firm that they identify eras of the organization’s history by executives who were there at a given time. So, those who are there today will speak of the “Smith Years,” or “when Jones was here” or back during “the Davis time.” None of these names give rise to positive thoughts for the executives who remained.

Now, this firm is down almost 90% from what it was in 2000, but rather than look at the dysfunctions inherent in the organization and in the remaining team, they take false comfort in the fact that their problems were the fault of the ones who left.

As you know if you read Leading Thoughts regularly, I’m a fierce advocate of brutal self-examination. I believe people, organizations, and networks need to honestly evaluate themselves and often. I believe they need to get outside help to see themselves clearly. I’ve seen it make all the difference in too many firms to believe otherwise.

In Jewish history, the scapegoat was literally a goat upon which the high priest conveyed the sins of the people. Then, the goat was sent away into the wilderness with the sins of the people upon him, never to return. It was a form of ceremonial cleansing and redemption.

As much respect as I have for this ancient religious tradition, this practice made into a tactic of leadership—into a way of escaping responsibility and change—is horribly destructive. In fact, made into a habit of years and spread organization wide, it is a cancer. It leads to blame rather than responsibility, gossip rather than change, settling rather than leadership.

Ask yourself if your life or your leadership exhibit this dysfunction. If they do, attack with all the weapons that will be readily apparent to you the moment you see the truth. Then, afterward, stand guard against this in your own soul and in all that you lead.

Here it is in a nutshell: Don’t blame those who leave. Hold responsible those who stay, yourself—the leader—most of all. This is how we snatch victory from the deceptions that lead to defeat.

That’s it. Have a great weekend.


Father’s Day is approaching! Use this opportunity to both thank and inspire the dads in your life. Send them a biography of one of our great leaders: Then Darkness Fled: The Liberating Wisdom of Booker T. Washington, The Character and Greatness of Winston ChurchillLincoln’s Battle with Godor of course a book that references them all, Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men.