Author: Georgina Barrick
Recent high profile – and very different – leadership changes (think Maria Ramos, Stephen Koseff and Karl Lagerfeld) have got me thinking about how, and when, leaders should grapple with the idea of letting go of the reins to make way for a leadership refresh…
Very few leaders (beyond presidents and others in public office) serve for a fixed term.
For many of us, knowing when we’ve served our time and need to move on is entirely our own decision – there is no blueprint. But, the time comes (and it’s different for every company and individual) when making way for fresh blood is both inevitable and necessary.
It’s up to us to be alert to the signs. It could be that we’ve achieved all that we set out to achieve, or that we’ve seen the organisation through a difficult transition, or (even) that we’ve run out of ideas.
Regardless of the reason, as leaders, we’re expected to know when to bow out gracefully.
The truth is that, even good leaders, who have achieved a lot during their tenure, can outstay their welcome.
Some – like Maria Ramos – believe that leaders should be ‘systematically replaced to allow for a regular refresh’ – meaning that the best leaders don’t stay too long. Others believe in long term continuity and stability – being able to stabilise, evolve and grow a business, while seeing medium to long term projects through. Although, this train of thought can sometimes backfire if the leader becomes the company and any indication that he or she might step down leads to volatility.
So, how do we recognise the signs that we’ve served for long enough and that the time is right (both personally and for the companies that we run) to step aside? For that matter, how do we time any organisational change correctly so that it’s good for all?
You’ve become complacent…
You’ve always been bursting with new ideas, but start to feel that the well has run dry.
You realise that you haven’t done anything new – or encouraged any new ideas from your staff – in a long time. And, while you might not yet be in ‘we’ve always done it this way’ territory, you’ve certainly become way too comfortable with the status quo, and perhaps even feel a little stuck.
If you’re feeling this way, you can bet that your team do too – which means that an organisational shake up is probably needed and that you might need to step aside to make way for new thinking.
You no longer feel valued…
Where once you were a vital part of the leadership team, you’re now feeling like an outsider.
Decisions that you would once have been a big part of are made without your input, meetings that couldn’t happen without you now take place in your absence or senior leadership/ the board fails to support you on important issues.
The signs are there that your opinion no longer carries the weight that it used to – which means that it’s time to move on.
You can’t do what needs to be done…
You’ve put your heart and soul into your start up and it now needs to grow to reach the next level – but you don’t have the skills needed to take it there. Or, it’s time for your company to make a significant (but much needed) change in direction – and you know that you may not be the right person to lead the charge. You could also come to realise that the vision that has sustained you no longer aligns with that of your organisation. Often, the skills required to turn a business around or get a new project off the ground are not the same skills required for the day-to-day running of a business.
It can be difficult for leaders, who feel irreplaceable, to acknowledge that the best course of action is to make way for a new generation of talent with fresh perspectives and skills.
You know that it’s time to play to your strengths…
Microsoft’s Bill Gates was 45 years old when he shocked the business world by stepping down as CEO to resume a tech role. And, while he’d made his fortune and could afford to take a back seat, Gates also understood that the skillset that had helped him to found Microsoft could be put to better use in another role, allowing him to stay in touch with what really excited him and devote time to building his foundation (another passion) - all while being in the best interests of Microsoft.
As leaders, we spend the first years of our careers honing skills that we lose touch with once the day-to-day intricacies of management take over. And, sometimes it’s best – for us and the teams that we run – to step down and return to what excites us.
You know it’s time…
Leadership is a high-pressure job. Few people can handle the long hours, stress and responsibility needed. Managing competing stakeholder demands is a delicate balancing act that requires sustained energy, innovation and stamina.
Sometimes, leaders just come to realise that it’s time. Perhaps it’s because their health starts to suffer or because the talent that they’ve developed has more energy or fresher ideas.
Regardless, sometimes they just know.
As Eckhart Tolle said ‘sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on’. As leaders, we need to be alert and open to the need for organisational change – even if it means that we leave a job or company that we have sweated blood to build, to make way for fresh ideas, new directions and growth.
May we all recognise the signs in our own lives, when they come…
Georgina Barrick, MD of Cassel&Co and The Working Earth, all divisions of ADvTECH Resourcing (Pty) Ltd. Georgina has over 25 years of recruitment and executive search experience.