When Leaders Need to Gracefully Exit

When leaders need to gracefully exit is directly tied into their EQ.

But more importantly, it really says more about their character.

I recently worked with a leader diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and this person had finally reached the crossroads of their career with a decision to make.

This was the pivotal moment of knowing when to step down while they were still capable of doing the work before the condition began affecting the quality… so they were still able to hand off the “baton.”

This alone speaks to this person’s integrity.

When leaders need to gracefully exit, they need to make a conscientious decision to safeguard the work they have done, while creating the safe space for new leadership to step in.

It is difficult when leaders need to gracefully exit… oftentimes, there is a great deal of personal connection to the work.

Sometimes, however, those leaders who won’t budge… even when all signs are pointing towards the exit door.

Those are the leaders who have lost touch. For selfish reasons, they cling on even harder.

Often, the decision not to leave actually is a sign that they are scared… and can’t let go.

But when it comes to the point where leaders need to gracefully exit, it is an empowering experience.

By realizing the greater need, they can help set the stage for the company to continue on and be successful as it evolves.

Otherwise, it means a protracted, ugly removal process that cuts into that person’s legacy.

The best time to gracefully exit

This requires a leader to ask themselves several questions:

  1. Have I taken this organization as far as I can?
  2. Am I still giving the organization 100% of my energy and attention?
  3. Have I reached as many ideas and innovations that I can provide?
  4. What other obstacles are preventing me from doing my best work?
  5. Has the organization stopped growing or evolving?
  6. Have I made any errors in judgement that have caused irreparable harm to the company?
  7. Are the people, programs, processes, or the structure straining under my leadership?
  8. Am I hungry for a new adventure or opportunity?

These are difficult questions for a leader to ask of themselves.

How to gracefully exit

When leaders need to gracefully exit, they can do so and keep their heads held high.

Think about how you can bridge your exodus to connect to the next incoming leader.

What can you do to help ease business continuity and reassure everyone?

Can you time this in a way that there isn’t an immediate crisis? It’s best to go out at the top of your game as that cements your legacy.

Letting go as a leader exiting an organization is a healthy exercise

It creates opportunity and a fresh start, while building upon previous success.

Think about it this way: If you want a glowing and lasting legacy, it takes guts for leaders to gracefully exit, but the benefits and rewards if timed right and handled correctly can have a long-term positive impact.