I Did It My Way

Pope Benedict’s decision to resign earlier this year was shocking, especially given that it’s been 598 years since the last papal resignation.

But those few other popes who resigned mostly did so amid scandal and crisis.

It’s not terribly surprising when a failed leader vacates their job due to internal or public disapproval.  But in Benedict’s case, the determination was made independently, and without any apparent pressure.  He concluded:

“I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise.”

Knowing when to step down can be challenging for leaders, particularly those who are respected, admired, and still enjoying relative success.  Yet failing to plan a graceful exit can harm your organization, tarnish your reputation, and prevent you from applying yourself to more satisfying and worthy pursuits.

Since most professional leadership roles are not lifetime appointments, and departures are inevitable, and it’s better for a leader to have some control over the transition so that it becomes a natural process rather than an ugly event.  Oprah Winfrey is a good example of someone who made a well-timed and tasteful exit on her terms.  In her announcement about ending the Oprah Winfrey Show, she said:

“I love this show. This show has been my life. And I love it enough to know when it’s time to say goodbye. Twenty-five years feels right in my bones, and it feels right in my spirit. It’s the perfect number—the exact right time. So I hope that you will take this 18-month ride with me right through to the final show.”

The key is recognizing when it’s time to leave the party, so to speak. So here’s a list of potential signals that the time has come to consider moving on:

Personal Wellbeing

  • When health conditions compromise your ability to meet your high standards
  • When other aspects of your life demand attention, and can no longer be neglected or ignored
  • When the job is making you sick
  • When the commute is too long

Need For New Challenges

  • When your intuition tells you it’s time
  • When the work you are doing is not challenging and there are no real opportunities for advancement, professional or personal growth
  • When you believe you can contribute more elsewhere
  • When your legacy is cemented, and you are no longer making a difference
  • When you regularly fantasize about doing something else

Getting Passed By

  • When you are being marginalized and taken out of the loop
  • When there are others around you who can do a better job
  • When your presence is blocking deserving subordinates from having the chance to learn and develop
  • When you can no longer keep up with the pace of change (markets, ideas, technologies, etc.)
  • When you’re not being heard

Mismatched Values

  • When any of your core values are compromised on a regular basis
  • When you no longer trust your organization’s leadership
  • When the value proposition of the company is in bad shape and you don’t believe that it can be remedied
  • When you feel that you have to hide most of who you are
  • When you don’t feel proud of what your organization stands for or produces

Changes In The Organization

  • When most of your original peers have moved on
  • When the purpose of your role has revised or deemphasized
  • When your organization’s performance is tanking
  • When there is a major shift in the organizational culture that you did not plan or influence
  • When you begin to feel like an outsider


- Renee -

Comments are closed.