When The Best Thing A Leader Can Do Is Let Go


A few years ago an unprecedented thing occurred. Pope Benedict XVI resigned as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. In short, he realized he was simply too old to do the job:

After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

It takes a great deal of courage to recognize when it is time to step down. We leaders tend to get territorial about those we lead. We love them. We want what is right for them. And sometimes we have to accept that we are what is not right for them.

As a leader, your responsibility to your team, to your cause, and to your vision is realistic self-monitoring. It is this rigorous self-awareness that may, at some point, force you to answer the question, "Am I the right leader for this group at this time?"

You may not be if...

...you realize you don't have the time to really dedicate to the role. Leadership is not a 9 to 5 gig. It requires a great deal of energy and attention; to the  the behavior of those around you, what they are doing and why, who is excelling the most, who needs encouragement, who needs more direction. If you don't have the time, assign the role to someone else or step aside.

...the stress is overwhelming you. Stress is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it creates an adrenaline rush that helps you across the finish line. But if it is the kind of stress that is affecting you physically and emotionally, you may be unable to lead effectively.

...it's time for you to shift roles. Good leaders understand the importance of succession planning. And that might be making a shift from leader to advisor. Someone in your organization might be a better leadership choice than you, and it might be best to hand off the reins. Being an effective leader mean setting aside your ego and focusing on the collective goal.

...your organization has grown beyond your ability to lead. If you take leadership seriously then you have a personal advisory board for feedback and direction. Everyone has weaknesses, and sometimes they can be corrected. But, if you decide you can't overcome critical deficits, those you lead may benefit from a new direction.

This week I did the hardest thing a leader could do. I handed my classes off to another teacher while I deal with some medical issues. I did not want to give up the influence I have on my students. I did not want to give up the joy I derive from seeing them flourish. I did not want to give up the energy I gain from leading a lively discussion.

But more importantly, I do want them to succeed. And, for now, that means letting go.


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