Normal Reaction or Being a Jerk?
In Lisa Eadicicco’s recent article, “How Steve Jobs Reacted When A Top Apple Executive Left For A Competing Company”,, she describes Job’s disbelief and disappointment when a long time employee and friend left Apple for a job in another company.

This is a common problem for leaderw when they haves total dedication to the meaning and purpose of their company, the customers and the products or services. (Something that employees say they look for in a leader, by the way). Often the leader expects his or her leadership team and key employees to feel the same way.

Millennial’s Search For Meaning
Today younger employees search for employment that has meaning in what they do. Emily Smith and Jennifer L. Aaker write:

“Millennials appear to be more interested in living lives defined by meaning than by what some would call happiness. They report being less focused on financial success than they are on making a difference. A 2011 report commissioned by the Career Advisory Board and conducted by Harris Interactive found that the No. 1 factor that young adults ages 21 to 31 wanted in a successful career was a sense of meaning. Though their managers, according to the study, continue to think that millennials are primarily motivated by money, nearly three-quarters of the young adults surveyed said that “meaningful work was among the three most important factors defining career success.” (<)

This situation should be a marriage made in heaven. Great leaders and companies provide meaningful work and new young workers are looking for precisely that situation. Staff benefits because they do work that matters. Organizations benefit because meaning and purpose have a significant impact on the success of an organization. In Deloitte’s Culture of Purpose study, they report “Organizations that focus beyond profits and instill a culture of purpose are more likely to find long-term success.”

The Leadership Dilemma
But therein lies the dilemma. Is providing a meaningful mission and meaningful work a one-way street or is there an implied commitment beyond a standard employment agreement?

Susie Cranston and Scott Keller write in the McKinsey Quarterly (January 2013),

“ The psychologist Mihàly Csìkszentmihàlyi studied thousands of subjects, from sculptors to factory workers, and asked them to record their feelings at intervals throughout the working day. Csìkszentmihàlyi came up with a concept we consider helpful. He observed that people fully employing their core capabilities to meet a goal or challenge created what he called “flow.” More important, he found that individuals who frequently experienced it were more productive and derived greater satisfaction from their work than those who didn’t.”

If this is true, why would we not expect this “flow” to apply to great leaders? The flow for a great leader is finding and engaging talented people with challenging work and then enjoying the optimal and significant solutions that result. When this flow is disrupted, is it a surprise that the leader’s motivation and morale would be impacted?

As great leaders build an environment of meaning and purpose, they hope (and even expect) their staff to be as committed as they are. These leaders and organization often believe that, much like a religious organization, an employee is not just joining a company but a movement, a cause. When a person leaves that organization (or even becomes disengaged), a totally dedicated leader may interpret the departure not as a talent issue but as a loyalty issue. I remember a situation in my career where I was fortunate enough to have a highly talented person on my staff. Together we spearheaded the turnaround of a very dysfunctional organization to create a highly effective organization. When that staff member received an exceptional offer, I was glad for him but also depressed and discouraged. While progress could still be made, I knew things would never be quite the same and in the back of my mind (never spoken aloud) I wondered how he could leave for just more money. (In my mind no other place could match the purpose or meaning of what we were doing). It felt as if the person had left me as much as he had left the company. (Fortunately, we remained close after his departure).

Can we expect great organizations and leaders to create meaningful work and then not be affected if talented people leave? (After all, while it may not always seem like it, leaders are human too!) Is it unrealistic for leaders to expect that the creation of purpose and meaning also creates an expectation that staff are as committed as leader is? Is Steve Job’s reaction (he never spoke to the employee again) typical of a dedicated leader or a total jerk?

Question For Contemplation

How does a leader build a great organization and culture characterized by meaning, purpose and engagement and not feel betrayed when key employees, whom he or she has invested in, leave the company?

There will be easy and simple solutions provided to that question but it will not be that simple for the leader who is working through this issue.

Copyright 2015 9 By 9 Solutions All Rights Reserved


  1. Yusuf Tokdemir

    Dear Doug, there may be times that a leader decides to leave the company. We are human. We have different expectations. We have families. We have responsibilities. All of these factors cannot conform with the company working conditions, CEO and the board’s expectations and a leader can make a choice. This leader is not Steve Jobs. They have different enjoys, characters and goals. Of course, I understand the situation of Steve Jobs. But, this is life!

    Great post. Thank you!

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