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We’re not quite sure about you, but we hope you don’t leave us

When the BBB board of directors hired me from Colorado Springs in December 1998, I spent the first couple of months just meeting business people in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. They often told me that Spokane was a steppingstone and I would move on to bigger and better things in five to seven years.

I bought into that, as the general consensus was that this place is a just a stopover. Boy, what a statement! I took that to mean anyone who moved here from elsewhere and didn’t leave simply was not good enough to get out of the Inland Northwest. Weird, to say the least. With that kind of PR, who in their right mind would ever want to stay?

But then I saw something contrary happening in the business and government world. Individuals who did move on to bigger jobs in bigger cities were chastised for leaving Spokane. And it has not changed. The message borders on “How dare you abandon us!” The discussion about Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick interviewing in San Francisco reminded me that this strange double standard still exists.

We are critical of those who stay – they are not quite good enough. We are critical of those who leave – they think they are too good. This finger- pointing ignores the large group of talented, capable people who stay here because of a distinctive quality of life choice, not a last resort. And there is also the group that left to take the big jobs, only to return when the lights of the big city dulled.

I admit I catch myself in the “that person is too good to settle for Spokane” mentality every once in a while, but then I catch myself. Life in the Northwest is a choice to be enjoyed, not a sentence to be served.

But why are we so critical when someone wants to take the big job in another city? Do we feel like we can’t hang on to talent? Are we afraid we drive people away? Does it make all of our leadership seem all too temporary? Are we jealous that someone chooses to fight crime and traffic in a large city rather than sample the gifts this area has to offer?

Let’s reduce the argument to a lower common denominator. How do we as managers and leaders feel when a staff person leaves our business to take a promotion at another company? What about when a customer leaves us to buy a different product from someone else? Do we resent them? Are we angry? Do we sit back and think about the ways we could have kept them? Perhaps it is a good time to look at our product compared to the one our customer selected. Are we doing all we can in these troubling economic times to make our employees feel valued and validated? Can we do any of these things without emotional bias, with education as our goal? Big questions, but we cannot have it both ways.

When an employee, customer, police chief or community leader makes a choice that does not favor us or our agenda, it is simply an opportunity to start asking questions. We will never keep every customer, all our staff or each community leader, no matter what we do. But there are lessons in each choice. We just need to be open enough to listen without prejudice or attack. We can’t win them all, but what we see reflected in our losses may teach us something important about ourselves, our community or our culture.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at