People Don’t Quit Their Jobs… They Quit Their Bosses

by Stephen T. Messenger

December 7, 2021

I left the Army after only four years in 2004. There were a few different reasons, but I remember watching my leaders and wondering, “Do I want to be them in five, ten, or twenty years?”

Many of them were exceptional leaders. They loved their jobs, families, and life. But many were also stressed, frustrated, divorced, or workaholics, and often seemed like their job was more of a chore than a choice.

I had to decide whether I wanted that future. Looking back, apparently, I didn’t want to enough because I got out. Almost twenty years later, having returned to the Army, I realize now that I have people looking at me thinking, “Do I want to be like him in five, ten, or twenty years?”

This isn’t military centric. It applies to business leaders, community organizers, moms and dads, and hundreds of positions. Do other people want to be you someday?

Often, I’m asked which one of my jobs did I like the best. The correct answer is always, “This one.” While it may not be entirely true, and you can’t force liking your job at times, it’s important others see you passionate about your work. They need confidence that their leader enjoys the same work they’re currently doing.

I’ve had a few conversations lately with young military officers who are deciding whether to make the service a career. I usually ask how long they’re going to stay in and why.

They look at senior leaders in their organization and wonder if that life should be their future.

The ones who see leaders stressed, frustrated, and not enjoying their career don’t want to stay in. Why would anyone in any organization? I wouldn’t want my future to be as a disgruntled employee, workaholic, stressed husband, or disappointed worker sticking around only for a paycheck.

People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses.

The ones who have leaders living their best lives want to stay in. They see these role models enjoy their careers, have a fulfilling family and home life, and cherish leading others.

Great leaders know that today is the best day of their life with unlimited opportunities in front of them. They exude optimism and mentor the next generation of leaders.

Having a boss that truly loves their job and sees a future for others in the organization makes the difference. Looking across a number of studies, it seems most people are dissatisfied with their jobs and very few people love them.

But imagine having a leader who loves their work.

Imagine being the leader who loves their work. You, as a leader, come in every day fired up to change lives and influence people. You:

  • Mentor others at every opportunity
  • Coach and teach
  • Understand you career is not about you but the next generation
  • Are a team player
  • Make time for family
  • Are pleasant to be around

None of this is hard to do. In fact, they’re simple tenants of leadership. Unfortunately, we can’t control the leaders we have. But we can be better.

Realistically, not everyone is going to like their job. It takes work and a mindset to go in everyday to be a positive influence on your team. But know that your people will take on your personality.

If you’re depressed, upset, and disgruntled, don’t be surprised if they are too. If you exude optimism and live for the present, they will as well.

Our charge is to ignore the moods around us and be that leader others want to emulate. We need to live in the present and help others envision the massive opportunities in front of them.

They need to look at us and want to be where we are in a few years. Because if we don’t love our job, why are we even doing it? Find something else.

Instead of dwelling on the hardships of the job, think about today’s privilege to lead men and women and act in a manner that others admire.

Optimistic leadership makes all the difference—show you love your work and your people, and they will follow.

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