One of the most important decisions a leader can make in her/his role is “stay or leave” but it is amazing how many otherwise very competent, seemingly successful people make a terrible decision. Be strategic with this decision. Is the feeling of career crisis due to a:
- Struggling business model?
- Bad boss?
- Leadership void or crisis?
- Business model under stress?
- Glass ceiling?
- Organizational perception of your capabilities or worth?
- Bad decision or judgment error is putting you at risk?
You feel you may be at a fork in your career path. Maybe you’re not enjoying your work, culture, climate or opportunity. Every role with every company has peaks and valleys, so the “stay or leave” decision should not be a knee-jerk to an isolated occurrence. It should be made as this valley persists or deepens. Let’s analyze each of these seven decision points.
- Struggling Business model – Is it temporary or long-term? Does the organization have a plan to get out of a bad situation? Are there milestones to improvement? If there are no plans and ways to measure improvement (milestones), then it is time to take steps to leave. If there is a plan without milestones or if the company is continually missing the milestones, it is time to take steps to go. Continual progress toward an improved situation is essential to stay.
- Bad boss – A lousy boss is defined as a boss that blames without accepting responsibility, fails to coach you for improvement, seeks scapegoats for his or her own failures, is over his or her head and therefore manages to the lowest tactical level (micro-managing), is disrespectful or abusive or fails to communicate organizational goals, milestones, and work purpose. We must acknowledge that bosses change and this might be a temporary situation. It is not uncommon bad bossing is seen from the top down as well as bottom up. Are there subtle indications that his/her boss is coaching the bad boss? Is it likely the bad boss will leave or be reassigned shortly? If the answer to both of these is no, it is time to take steps to go.
- Leadership void – Is this due to a temporary management change or a long-term cultural problem. Leadership void is very similar to a bad boss but is more systemic to the organization and its culture. Does it seem the work and direction are rudderless and this derelict wandering by the organization or department is continual? If so, it is time to take steps to leave.
- Business model under stress – We work in a very disruptive, competitive world today. New competitors enter daily with new offers and value propositions. Is the organization aware of these seismic shifts or are they just doing business as usual? Are they monitoring and measuring the impact of disruption on their revenue, product adoptions, consumer expectations or profits? If not, it is time to take steps to leave.
- Glass ceiling – Are you prevented from advancement because of your gender, sexual orientation, religion or race? It is time to take steps to leave.
- Organizational perceptions of your capability – It is not uncommon for a good employee to be typecast as a result of one mistake or miss-step. We all make mistakes or have a learning curve in the job that may result in an isolated and temporary performance issue. Can this perception be changed? Have you taken appropriate steps to change this perception but it persists? If leadership cannot see you for your potential and continue to typecast you unfairly, it is time to take steps to leave.
- A decision or judgment error – If you make decisions, some are going to be wrong. You will make mistakes managing situations and people. Does your boss or the organization hold a grudge? Do you get appropriate coaching/training when you make mistakes and are allowed to learn from them and correct them? If the culture is to hold a grudge or not allow errors to be opportunities to learn it is time to take steps to leave.
This list of seven is representative of obvious forks in your career path. But there is another often overlooked situation where a real leader makes a stay or leave decision. Have you ever been in a role that no longer inspired you, challenged you, or where you became complacent? Have you ever been in a position where your impact on the department or the organization turned from significant to incremental? Have you ever gotten to the point where you have taken the department or organization as far as you could, and it was time to bring in the next person to take it to the next level? Are you not getting the trust and support you need to make the significant changes required to take the organization to the next level? This decision point is subtler, personal and feels riskier but when you get to this apex of the impact curve, it may be the best time to take steps to leave.
Once you decide to leave, build a bridge don’t burn a bridge. Do the necessary work to set your tasks, projects, department and direct reports up for success. Create a job description and skills inventory that your replacement will need to be successful. In some situations you can be very transparent with your decision and offer to help hire a successor; this is rare but brings great value to the organization. You are leaving voluntarily so be gracious and generous with your bosses, the company and your direct reports; don’t throw anyone under the bus. In your exit interview be honest but respectful as to why you are leaving; always try to provide them with your insights as a way to help them improve their situation.
In business today everyone needs to own and manage his or her career. Thinking the company will return your loyalty or take care of you when times get rough is a serious career mistake. Hanging on just because that feels safer sets the stage for failure and low self-esteem. If we acknowledge these fundamental facts, we begin to make better stay or leave decisions.