Leaving to Live – Sometimes You Must

Six weeks ago, a young man arrived in the USA and became our newest client. For confidentiality, he’ll be called, “ Mark”. He’s a bilingual civil engineer with a story similar to many forced to leave everything they have. Leaving was required for him to live. It’s a choice that feels similar to the story of those navigating leadership challenges today.

Mark graduated from a university and worked for four years with US Military command building a mega-base in Kabul, Afghanistan. Helping our chief engineers and commanders run complex civil engineering projects while holding local laborers accountable for quality, materials, and contracts, he put himself at risk with the Taliban (who wanted access to payments and materials) as he defended our government and contracts.

Mark fled Afghanistan in 2019 for his role in helping our troops. He survived three years in refugee camps in Greece and is now rebuilding his life in the U.S. through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. His cultural onboarding has involved meeting new friends, working with charitable and service organizations, and seeking employment in civil engineering. He’s passionate about building safe communities and modernizing U.S. infrastructure.

Having left everything in order to survive – this newest professional wants to participate in creating stronger, safer infrastructure to support sustainable water, energy, and food for this and future generations. Over our many conversations – I  recognized the theme which fueled his courage and resilience is one I’m hearing with many coaching clients:

Sometimes you have to leave a place to get your life back     

While Mark’s is a story of departure for survival – the parallel to what clients and companies share with me in navigating the Great Resignation is strikingly similar — people are leaving to get their lives back.

Leaders come in wide-eyed saying that…

“The best talent has to leave for the organization to listen to what is happening.”

Why is this the case? Often there is a layer above the busy managers. These managers are doing their best to identify issues and get support but don’t have access or exposure to the executive ranks above them. Their request falls on deaf ears and no amount of ‘hang in there’ or ‘ask others to step up’ works when the real issue is under-resourced (time, staff, talent) teams.

Top talent requests before exiting are most often the need for:   

  • More insight to, experience with, and influence in decisions that impact them/the team
  • Realistic workload, compensation, and WFH flexibility
  • Efficient technology and processes
  • Upward career line of sight, purpose, and mobility  

The pressure to offer more livable work started long before COVID — and was accelerated by it. Executives willing to listen know that succession requires attracting and developing a talent bench at all levels with diverse perspectives and experience. Organizational weak spots once ignored are now magnified as they become points of failure. Sad but true, much of the failure could be mitigated if “ the right” people were listening and willing to evolve.  

Talent challenges won’t disappear for the foreseeable future. Here’s to learning from the “Marks” and those already working hard to keep our workforce vibrant.

If you or your top talent is ready for coaching, let’s schedule a conversation.


Resources: Mark is one of the lucky ones. Translators helping USA troops (many are university graduates) are in cities across the USA. Others are still waiting in poverty and danger for safe passage to western countries. If you’d like to know more about assisting an SIV recipient in your area, contact your closest RCUSA office.  

Kim Moore

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