Why should we celebrate when our followers leave?

Photo by Elijah Macleod on Unsplash

Not long ago I explored what happens to leaders when their followers leave. That post discussed a style of leadership that too often is tempted and succumbs to the invitation to chase after followers on the run. But what if, as Keilah who is a dear friend reminded me, we recognize sometimes followers leave because they’ve simply outgrown our leadership? What if we assessed our impact based not on the number who stay but instead on the number that are now equipped to leave — can our egos handle the reality that followers will not (and should not) stay with us forever? I know this thought defies the logic of Instagram’s algorithm, but what if we committed to sending rather than gathering followers? What would happen if our organizations, spheres of influence and circles of impact were attuned, expectant of and accustomed to helping people find their way but only temporarily?

This open style of leadership accepts the revolving door of followship as a sign of a healthy organism. Think about any school model. Typically, we expect students to remain enrolled and matriculating for a specific duration of time, but if they remain longer, that signals the need to reexamine whether this context is the best for that student. Can/should the same be said for those we lead? Whether through a new job opportunity, a promotion to a new division and/or departure stemming from the desire for a change, those we lead are destined to find grass that is more suitable for their next stage in life. Our ability to not only expect, but also welcome and celebrate such changes is essential to remaining a healthy leader. Rather than view their inevitable departure as a sign of weakness, it may in fact be evidence that we have led effectively to help prepare them for their next. As Keilah, who helped shape this perspective remarked, desiring to keep them will only “hold them back.” Eventually we can expect them to become resentful, stagnant and/or disinterested in our work together.

But rather than paint a picture of the worst case scenario, let’s begin this new year with a new goal in mind.

How about we assess how we might make others around us better this year? Do members of our team need to improve in their ability to communicate effectively? Is it possible for our team members to become stronger at envisioning, ideating and/or implementing new ideas? Many of us are familiar with making new year’s resolutions. What about making new year departure goals that invite our team to focus on 1–2 skills that can help set them up for their next? This way we are consistently preparing our team to outgrow our leadership. In time (after or before leaving), they may thank us for this commitment. When and as they do, our leadership will have grown as well.

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