What Nobody’s Talking About in The Great Resignation

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So, The Great Resignation is more than underway, and it’s transforming how leaders lead, and organizations survive, let alone grow.

Restaurants and stores have cut back hours because they can’t hire staff. Almost everyone is hiring. And millions of people have (apparently) disappeared from the workforce. Millions of other people have relocated and expect more flexibility in their work than ever.

Here’s the aspect of The Great Resignation that no one’s talking about: The impact on a leader’s confidence and the ability to lead a team into the future.

Basically, how are you feeling when you’re the one holding the bag trying to lead the entire mission up the field?

Obviously, there’s no silver-bullet answer, but there are dynamics you’re facing as a leader.

Even naming them can spark some progress in the right direction.

1. It’s Probably Left You Thinking of Quitting Too

So you’re the leader, but what happens if you want out too?

82% of senior leaders and executives go home mentally and physically exhausted every night from work. That doesn’t have a long shelf life.

Barna Group polled pastors twice in 2021.

In January, 29% of pastors said they had seriously thought about leaving ministry in the last year.

In October, that number jumped to 38%.

Dig a little deeper, and almost half of all pastors under 45 are thinking of quitting ministry. Women also have a higher incidence of thinking about quitting than male pastors. (I do a special podcast episode on the stat and what it means with Barna President David Kinnaman here.)

I talked to one leader who said he feels jealous that someone is leaving because, as the leader, he can’t even leave, and yet he feels exhausted and demoralized too.

Sigh… it’s a lot.

But here’s the tension: While all of these feelings of abandoning ship are natural given the situation, there has to be a commitment at some point.

It’s hard to lead an organization you’re no longer fully committed to.

If you’re thinking of quitting, here’s why, in my view, you shouldn’t quit ministry right now, even if you feel like it. The logic applies to other professions too.

It's hard to lead an organization you're no longer fully committed to. Click To Tweet

2. It’s Demoralized The Rest of the Team

Almost every leader has had someone on their team quit.

But The Great Resignation is about more than just the people who left. It’s about the people who stayed too.

It’s left entire teams scrambling, picking up the slack, and, honestly, shaken.

Whether it’s that your best friend left at work, your boss is gone, or your department is just really short-handed, as a leader who remains, you can’t assume your remaining team is doing great.

In fact, here’s a weird subplot – quietly or publicly, some of the remaining exhausted employees feel trapped on the team because they didn’t leave first and now don’t want to leave the leader high and dry.

In some cases, team members were looking elsewhere but now feel they can’t leave out of loyalty because too many people left ahead of them. And that creates a weird culture.

So they’re in – sort of.

But the Great Resignation is about more than just the people who left. It's about the people who stayed too. Click To Tweet

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3. You and the Remaining Team are Paranoid (and Drained By) the Thought of the Future

Several years ago, I had a key staff member leave after a few years of high turnover.

I’ll never forget what happened next: I was drained by the thought of the future.

When I was interviewing candidates to replace the leader who left, I remember thinking to myself, “I wonder how long until she leaves?” That was during the interview. 

To make matters worse, you know the competition is so fierce, and the talent pool is so shallow that you’re tempted to settle for your next staff member, a thought that would never have occurred to you in the past.

The future now looks even bleaker.

You’re not alone in feeling drained by the future or paranoid about it.

Your remaining staff is feeling it too.

Some of your remaining staff have talked about possibly leaving too…with you and with other teammates. Even though they haven’t gone, it creates an asterisk next to their future.

Whether those thoughts materialize or not, it makes it really hard to plan for the future.

You have thought about quitting. They’ve thought about quitting. And everyone’s having a hard time coping.

So, What Do You Do?

In light of all the tension and the messy moment we’re in, what are you supposed to do? How do you lead?

I have three suggestions.

1. Make a Decision

It’s easy to waffle back and forth daily (or hourly) about whether you’re staying or going.

Instead, make a decision. Either you’re in, or you’re out.

If you’re out, quit. Again, I still think that’s not the wisest decision right now, but at least there’s clarity.

And if you stay (my guess is 95%+ of people reading this will stay), then take leaving off the table for now – kind of like the couple who’s struggling to decide to take divorce off the table.

Why?

Your indecision will make future planning difficult, and your double-mindedness as a leader will leak. Even if you don’t say a word, people will sense something is off.

Ambivalence and effectiveness rarely coexist in a leader.

So, decide to stay. And then lead like it.

Ambivalence and effectiveness rarely coexist in a leader.  Click To Tweet

2. Name It

Once you’ve made up your mind, call in the team and name what everyone’s feeling.

Be honest.

Tell them you know the Great Resignation is happening. Tell them it’s impacted your team.

Let them express their feelings. Clear the air.

Don’t threaten. Just listen with empathy and let everyone get things off their mind.

Naming the tension doesn’t always resolve the tension, but you’ll be surprised at how healing it can be.

Could it result in one more resignation, or two? Maybe.

But the amount of malaise it resolves will more than offset it for those who remain.

In leadership, naming the tension doesn't always resolve the tension, but you'll be surprised at how healing it can be. Click To Tweet

3. Focus on the Future

With the air cleared and your mind made up, move on into the future.

You have a mission. Lean into it, and rally the team around it.

Make plans for the new era. Tackle the challenges together.

Nothing alleviates the ambiguity and discouragement of the present like focusing on a better future.

Nothing alleviates the ambiguity and discouragement of the present like focusing on a better future.  Click To Tweet

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.

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