Anyone who leads an organization is on a mountain top. Sometimes the mountain isn’t prominent or noticed. At other times it’s a big mountain, complex and involving many people. All who reach the top eventually come down although some resist this. They hang on, lose their effectiveness and often harm their organizations as a result. But eventually even the resisters give up their control. They come down from leadership in several ways:
- Some are carried down because of sickness or death.
- Others are pushed down–removed by election results, retirement, coups, ousters, or employment terminations.
- Many fall down because of moral failures or other bad choices.
- More than a few just quit, forsaking difficult circumstances or abandoning their responsibilities.
Most admirable, perhaps, are leaders who chose to walk down voluntarily. These leaders recognize that the time has come to resign or retire so they relinquish their duties and begin the succession process. In the Netherlands last month Queen Beatrix abdicated so her son could bring a younger perspective to the Dutch throne. Then Pope Benedict resigned, citing age and declining health that was preventing him from leading most effectively.
Stepping down can take courage and be very difficult, especially when your organization is doing well or your work has been fulfilling. Leaving leadership can bring a sometimes-unexpected onslaught of readjustments. These include:
- Grieving. We give up a lot when we leave, including influence and status. Deep sadness can arise from what we leave behind, especially relationships. This grief extends to people who see their leaders go. Catholics around the world experienced grieving and anxiety when the Pope resigned.
- Loneliness. When leaders go they tend to be forgotten, even if they have been prominent and influential. Soon they realize “I am not in the game any more.”
- Mixed feelings. Depending on what led to the change, there can be anger, resentment, and boredom but also relief or new enthusiasm.
- Readjustments. Leaving leadership roles can involve lifestyle change, seeking new direction, changing friendships and making moves.
- Confusion. This is the “where-do-I-go-now?” questioning that comes especially when the change was sudden.
What would you add to this list? How have you handled a change in leadership? Please comment.
(BTW: This is nor a veiled announcement. Currently I, Gary, am not planning to resign from anything).