In 2014 and 2017, I had the opportunity to be part of the dig staff on an archaeological site in Jordan, near the Dead Sea. One of the unexpected discoveries I found was how many parallels archaeology has with leadership.

On an archaeological dig site, the ground is divided into 5 by 5 meter squares. Inside those squares is where the work happens. Each square has identifying information, like 45GG or 32AA, so that anything discovered in that square can be tagged appropriately. When a team is digging in a square, we often tell them to think of the dirt like water in a bathtub. You want to lower it in a way that is level, not in spurts. Don’t dig a hole down 6 feet in one corner and leave the rest of the square undisturbed; instead, lower the level of the dirt like water in a bathtub drains, level and even.

During this season called the “Great Resignation,” people have been asked, “why are you leaving your current job?” Answers vary, as you would expect, but there are threads that consistently run through the responses.

  • Money – I can make more elsewhere
  • Time – my schedule or commute would improve elsewhere
  • Location – working remotely is appealing for many as opposed to a traditional office environment

Many of the answers fall into those categories. No big surprise, right?

And yet. I often want to dig deeper, like on a dig site. I want to drain the “water” out more and see what it reveals if we go just under what’s on the surface.

When we do that, typically the reason for leaving gets even simpler.

As Brigette Hyacinth says, “Employees don’t leave companies; they leave managers.”

Leadership matters.

How we lead matters.

As I coach leaders, I find this is true across organizational life. It could be in a corporate environment, a church, a school or university, a non-profit, or working for the government – the same principle holds true. People don’t usually leave companies – they leave managers/leaders – typically because of how that manager or leader makes them feel.

People don’t leave jobs – they leave leaders. Most often, because the leaders don’t listen. When team members don’t feel heard, it’s not a far leap for them to feel unvalued.

Andy Stanley has said, “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

Leaders, when there is a challenge with a team member, listen. Ask questions. Dig deeper. Drain the “water.” See what is revealed.

You might be surprised what you learn when you do.

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