Bluepoint Leadership Development


Leadership and Leaves

While this article doesn’t provide any science or research into the leadership field, it will hopefully plant an important seed of an idea that I’ve been thinking about over the past few months. Here’s the question:

Do we as leaders consider those in our charge as usable assets? Or as professionals who deserve our respect and long-term support?

I recently observed two instances that present polar extremes on the spectrum of this question. In both cases, the leader of a high-performing team was informed that due to a change in business direction, their functions (and therefore personnel) would no longer be needed. The leaders were told to inform their employees that their positions would be eliminated in 60 days, which included the leaders themselves.

So these two seasoned managers in the same company were given the same unfortunate news, but how they handled it could not have been more different.

One of the leaders proceeded exactly as instructed: He met with each member of the team, clearly communicated the information he’d received, laid out the transition timeline, and offered to help anyone in any way that he could. Then, once he had adjusted emotionally to what was transpiring, he set out to find his next role.

At the end of the 60-day period, this leader had secured a new position for himself within the organization, but none of his team members remained with the company. As the members of the group departed, the organization lost nearly 90 years of experience in the business.

The second leader also executed his responsibilities as directed: He met with his team members to explain what was happening and what the expectations and limitations would be moving forward and made himself available to everyone. But after gathering himself following this emotionally heavy task, he set his sights on securing roles for each member of his organization. He worked his personal and professional network by placing phone calls and sending emails. He met with several members of his team to provide support on resume writing and building their own networks and to counsel them on what types of work to consider pursuing, and he routinely checked in on them to see how they were progressing and feeling. He was actively engaged in their processes and remained highly visible and accessible throughout.

For this second manager, by the time he had to close his function, every member of his team had found a comparable role elsewhere in the company. This included three managers, twenty-four team members, and the leader himself.

Interesting story, but what does it have to do with leaves?

These contrasting approaches to managing teams struck me as I was hiking in the dense western Pennsylvania forests late last fall. It was the time of year when the leaves falling from the trees were so dense it felt as though we were in a heavy snowfall. I was brushing the rapidly falling leaves off my shoulders and enjoying the dry, crisp crunching under my boots when I stopped to consider their relationship with the trees as an appropriate metaphor for human relationships, including managers and employees.

During the spring and summer, leaves collect moisture and provide essential chemical exchanges that enable the tree to survive and extend its own life. It’s a wonderful yin-yang harmony that is mutually beneficial and rewarding. When fall arrives, it seems somewhat cruel that the tree abruptly sheds the leaves, which have been instrumental to its own survival. Their service, no longer required, comes to an end.

But we know this isn’t really the end of the story! Those fallen leaves break down over time to create a layer of organic material that contributes essential nutrients to the soil, which in turn becomes food for the trees. Their value does not end or even diminish—it merely changes roles.

Back to the metaphor: If we revisit our first leader’s scenario, he employed a group of people to accomplish a set of objectives, and when that need had passed, he simply discarded them. There wasn’t any meanness or cruelty toward them; he just interpreted this moment as being appropriate for everyone to go their separate ways.

How did his tenured team members feel about his leadership at this delicate time? How will it influence their memory of working with him?

Our second leader embraced this very understanding in how he chose to manage through his team’s transition. Rather than view his personnel as being finished and discarding them, he knew their future value and honored them in his efforts to help them prosper. In a sense, he was repaying them for the effort and expertise they had given to him.

The impression left by his leadership style would be in stark contrast to that of our first leader.

Put another way: For whom would you rather work?

Consider your organization (or perhaps yourself). What legacy are your leaders leaving? Do they treat their teams as assets to consume, or are they honored, treasured, and valued? In a time when the workplace is predominantly employee driven (as opposed to employer driven) and engagement and retention levels are on all leaders’ minds, what is your workforce saying about their leaders?

About The Author

Neil Bryant

Neil Bryant

Neil is committed to the development of leaders… executive, mid-level, and emerging… and supporting all professionals who seek to elevate their performance and enjoyment of work. Following a meaningful career in sales, marketing, consulting, and business management in large corporations, he turned his focus to the leadership development and Executive Coaching fields. His passion lies in enabling leaders, and all committed professionals, to become the most effective and satisfying version of themselves, particularly in the context of their work environment.

Subscribe to newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter today and receive innovative, insightful and thought provoking resources (videos, webinars and articles) all effective tools for developing leadership talent.