Leadership is about knowing when to step forward and knowing when to step away. Many times in my career I have had a chance to do both. In my experience, stepping forward is much easier than stepping back.
In every leadership role, there is a tipping point. Where most leaders error is not seeing that tipping point and continue to do what they’ve always done not recognizing the signs of change, the symptoms of leadership shift.
Often leaders try to force their influence when their influence is waning. It’s not their leadership isn’t important, it’s just the organizational maturity has evolved, and its needs are different. This shift is not about execution or failure; it is the leader has taken the organization as far as his/her influence can take them and is time to allow someone else to take them to the next level.
All leaders have a skill set and experiences that positioned them in a leadership role. And, this skill set helped them to take the organization to new levels of success. But a time comes when their skills or experiences are not appropriate for what the organization needs next.
This tipping point has nothing to do with the person’s impact and accomplishments; it has everything to do with what the organization needs next. It does not diminish the fact that the organization was built on the shoulders of great leaders that have moved on. It only means the organization evolved and have different needs.
How does a leader prepare him/herself for this inevitable day?
1. Seek your successor – keep your eyes and ears open to candidates; internal or external
2. Be opportunistic in this search – you never know when they will show up but jump on them when they do
3. Be unselfish – succession isn’t about replacing you but about exceeding you; don’t be threatened by the next best leader
4. Share your learnings – progress only comes from creating a culture that allows “the new guy” to pick up where you left off
How do you recognize the “tipping point” for a leadership shift?
Look and listen. You will see it on your organizational impact. You will feel it in how your staff moves from following your lead to taking the helm. You will sense the organization is searching for more than you can provide.
Are these easy cues to observe?
No, it takes extraordinary leadership to know you have taken an organization beyond you. That is a great compliment but also a harsh reality. Only great leaders take this lesson in stride; good leaders fall short of greatness because they “outlasted their impact or influence.”
When that tipping point is reached, is that the end of the story?
No, it is indeed a new chapter to the story. This leader now has a new set of experiences to take to the next organization; to take them to the next level and set them up for long term sustainability.
Leadership isn’t about gathering followers; it’s about building new leaders that also pay it forward.