The Truth About Why Executives Quit


A CEO had developed a high growth strategy for her organization and had hired a rock star COO to take the lead in executing the plan. She was proud of the fact that she had been able to attract such talent from a key, and much larger, competitor.

After an outstanding year, the COO handed in his resignation. His reasons? More money and a promotion outside the industry.

The CEO was stunned. How had she not seen this coming?


The CEO thought she had a great relationship with the COO. She had given him lots of autonomy and recognized his efforts with a stellar performance review and a significant bonus.

Her mistake was that those were the rewards that motivated her. She had not taken the time to get to know the COO at a personal level and to understand what was really important to him.

She operated on the principal that if she didn’t hear otherwise, all was going well. Unfortunately, all was not well, and because she wasn’t more tuned in, she had no idea.


Business is about people and the most important relationship in a company is the one with the boss. It’s the number one reason why people leave, though they will tend to say they are leaving for more money or anything else less sensitive.

As a leader, if you are not spending 30 minutes a week with each one of your direct reports, you too will likely get an unwelcome surprise.

It’s one of the most difficult parts of a CEO’s role because it takes discipline and commitment in a work world that seems to operate everywhere but the office. But if you are not building a relationship of trust with your top talent, you too will find it difficult to retain them.

There are six key drivers that motivate people at work. Of course, everyone is unique and at different stages of their lives and their careers. Therefore, at any given time, two of the six drivers tend to be more important to any one person than the others.

That means that whatever motivates the CEO does not necessarily match what motivates her direct reports. And executives quit if the most important of their key drivers are not being met.

Ask members of your team to report on a quarterly basis, using a 10-point scale, how satisfied they are on the six top motivators, which include: relationship with the leader; learning and growth opportunities; challenging work; feeling significant; contribution to the success of the organization, and; certainty of career opportunities and financial rewards.

If the scores are very low on most drivers, it’s likely that the person is in the wrong place at the wrong time and one may have to consider dramatic changes for that role.

If the scores are low in just one or two areas, you have an opportunity to work with that person to develop an action plan and improve the scores, and the engagement.