5 Ways to (Sanely) Lose a Leader

We’ve all been there. You arrive at the office everyday and trudge through your work. It’s nothing particularly exciting, but you love your boss. Perhaps you have the type of boss that empowers you (hallelujah!) and gives you a fair share of autonomy to get your work done while also encouraging your development. You enjoy having them as a mentor and you learn from them through the company’s successes and challenges. But what happens when our beloved boss resigns?

This situation is a difficult one to navigate. After all, adjusting to your workplace, colleagues and boss has taken some time. Starting it all over again sounds a little exhausting, and you are feeling the stress of the unknown. Do you start the search for new opportunities yourself? Do you position yourself to be promoted into your boss’s role? What will happen if you remain? If you go? This stressful scenario requires some savvy moves. Below, I explore some effective ways to cope with the resignation of a loved leader. 

Resignation occurs for many reasons, but it is how employees react and adapt to this change that makes all the difference. The behavior of employees under these circumstances could potentially influence organizational performance. According to Organ’s Organizational Citizenship Behavior (1988), there are different outcomes for each behavior that an employee successfully displays. These outcomes are Conscientiousness, Altruism, Civic Virtue, Sportsmanship, and Courtesy. For example, an employee exhibiting conscientiousness could begin to perform above expectation on tasks that keep the business unit running effectively, despite the absence of the leader, making the absence of the leader not as acutely felt. Additionally, an employee exhibiting sportsmanship during this time would be maintaining a positive attitude to keep the morale of the team positive. 

When a leader resigns, it is important for the team to come together and communicate. Blau’s Social Exchange Theory (1964) suggests that aggregate citizenship behaviors could positively impact group performance. In this case, employees who step up to the task and look out for one another would eliminate the need to seek out a supervisor for help. This allows the team to complete mission-essential work and self-manage, taking the pressure off of an interim leader while they learn their new (temporary) role. 

1. Try to identify the reasons your leader is resigning. This feedback can help the department grow and implement new processes and strategies to possibly improve the department and diminish the chances of another member of the team leaving.

2. Foster open communication with your team and other departments. By establishing clear responsibilities with your team, you are effectively ensuring that all tasks go accounted for and that nothing will fall through the cracks now that you are down a manager. Let other departments know you are going through a transition and who the point people are in the department to get in touch with for certain matters. 

3. Take on additional responsibilities. Get involved. Adjusting your workload to be more supportive to the team in a higher capacity will not only reflect positively on you, but also keep your team motivated in a time of uncertainty. It is also an opportunity to see if you are ready to take on more responsibilities and a more leadership role, and that knowledge is crucial as you move throughout your career.

4. Get involved in the hiring process. If the company wants to backfill the position, ask if you can participate. What is the team looking for in a new leader? By helping the HR team understand and identify the qualities the company is looking for, the company will potentially avoid any other resignations.

5. Build out a clear strategy and plan. List each team member’s specific responsibilities. The team will function more smoothly if everyone is in agreement of what they are responsible for moving forward. 

A good departure by a boss can be seamless and leave the team still feeling confident and capable. A self-managing and self-sustaining team can keep the department highly functioning and successful. What happens if someone gets promoted into the new role from your team? That is an opportunity to rejoice, for a few reasons: 1) This displays clear upward mobility in the company 2) a positive pre-existing professional relationship can continue to grow and 3) the employee might have a better understanding of the role as they were once a team member themselves.

While the departure of a boss can be a stressful and confusing time, all outcomes are not bad. There is a lot of potential for growth in this type of transition. While it is not always the best news, try not to panic. This is a challenge that presents a great deal of opportunity for both you and your team. Revel in the valuable lessons that your boss taught you while working together and maintain a professional relationship. Life is about transition and anyone getting too comfortable in a role can eliminate the ability to successfully adapt to changes and grow past where they currently stand. 


Organ DW, Konovsky M. (1989). Cognitive versus affective determinants of organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 74,157-164. 

Blau P. (1964). Exchange andpower in social life. New York: Wiley.

Hagge, M. and Van Houten, R. (2016). Review of the application of the response deprivation model to organizational behavior management. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 36(1), 5-22.


by Lauryn Pregoni Camara

Lauryn is a Senior Human Resources Associate and is passionate about creating a rewarding, meaningful and healthy workplace culture for employees. She has her Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and Sociology and is passionate about studying society and culture, specifically in today's workplaces. 

Gianna Biscontini