When Good Leadership Means Stepping Down

CEO shows good leadership by stepping downThis past week, there has been quite a lot of discussion about how Pope Benedict XVI announced he was retiring as head of the Roman Catholic Church. This is an extraordinary step as no pope has stepped down for almost 600 years. In this case, Pope Benedict believes that good leadership means stepping down.

For the good of the organization

There are very few leaders, never mind popes, who recognize when they are no longer serving the good of the organization. This is often true when an organization is struggling to find its way as is happening in the Catholic Church today. While it is more complicated than a CEO stepping down, there is something worth discussing about leadership here.

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Sometimes it’s not about ego

Regardless of your personal view of the Catholic Church, its doctrines or its policies, this pope has thrown a monkey wrench into a well-established organization. Most popes only leave their positions when they die. Now, you might say he left for less worthy reasons but, for the sake of this conversation, let’s presume that Benedict became aware that he couldn’t get the job done.

3 questions

John Baldoni wrote a post asking three questions for leaders who may be considering what  is next:

  • Can I still do the job?
  • Who can do the job better?
  • What is best for the organization?

Answering these questions honestly takes a level of honesty and self-knowledge that many leaders don’t possess.When someone has been in charge for a long time, it’s hard to acknowledge that one’s performance has declined.One’s identity, sense of self-efficacy and routine is disrupted.

Could serving the organization be too idealistic?

A friend of mine is slated to become CEO of the company she works for. She was chosen by the current CEO because of her talent and his high regard for her. However, one of her worries is that he won’t know how to let go of the reins because he has been the leader for many years. Perhaps it is human to be so wrapped up in one’s job that the organization takes a back seat. It is easy to say that a leader serves the people in the organization or simply the organization. It is also easy to say that the board should provide good governance and let the CEO know how he/she is performing. Yet, it may be more true that a relationship with an entity (the business, in this case) isn’t as fulfilling as the glamour of being the leader or surpass relationships forged over time with board members.

Good leadership does mean knowing when to step down

Leadership experts will tell you about how to express your humanity, inspire people or be a good mentor to rising stars. It is also important to identify when to quit. Pope Benedict does show us that it is possible to know you are not the one to bring your organization through its next stage. Not only know it but act on your knowledge and get out of the way of your organization.

What factors should a leader consider when it may be time to step down?

How might a leader comes to terms with not being effective in his/her position?

When should a leader begin searching for a replacement?

Who determines a leader’s legacy?

About the author:  Elli St.George Godfrey, founder of Ability Success Growth and small business coach/trainer, is the host of KaizenBiz. I’m passionate about business becoming a more human-centered place so I host this chat to connect business ideas and develop people.This passion shows up in my work with my clients. Whether you are expanding in your own backyard or into another country, Ability Success Growth guides established small business owners to unlock the CEO within during times of transition and growth.

iStockphoto by Robaina