leadership incorporated blog

February 6, 2011

Why your first act in any leadership role (or any role) should be designing your exit strategy

This week I found myself in several conversations with clients about exit strategies.

As often as I hear from leaders who want to create something they can retire from or hand over to someone who can take it even further, I also hear from people who feel they are reaching the limits of their growth within an organization. I hear from directors who feel they’ve taken their team, department or company as far as they can with their current situation and constraints. I hear from people who feel frustrated and ineffective and stuck.

When I mention exit strategy, often people balk. They feel that planning an exit is somehow disloyal. Quite the opposite! Having a strong exit strategy in place will:

  • facilitate the growth of your organization
  • enhance your personal and professional growth
  • positively impact your leadership
  • help you to meet both your and your organizations’ goals and objectives
  • set you up to leave on good terms and in a way that’s best for everyone
  • make for a far more satisfying career
  • and keep you from getting to a point of complete frustration that is toxic for both you and the business

Not only is it NOT disloyal to have an exit strategy, it’s one of the most loyal actions you can take.

First of all, to think that you will never leave your company is to be in denial. We all will leave at some point, even if it’s when they carry us out on a stretcher. ( Not a desirable way to go for you or the company.)

Your best executive exit strategy may well be one that plans for you to stay with the company until you retire at 99 after having adequately prepared and transitioned to your perfect successor. An equally valid exit strategy outcome is to accomplish x, y and z for your organization and then hand over the reins and go do the same for another business. It may be to sell the company and retire. Or start another one. Or perhaps, your strategy is built on your intention of a series of promotions that lead to becoming that perfect successor for the current CEO.

Regardless of what your greatest desired outcome is, knowing how you want to leave has a profound influence on your actions during your tenure. As you might imagine, the decisions you make would be very different if you knew you intended to hand over control than if you intended to take on more responsibility.Knowing where you are heading makes you more effective. It’s really that simple.

Acting-as-if  you’re in it for the long haul, when you aren’t, doesn’t actually benefit the business— or you, either.

So, what does a potent exit strategy look like? It has the following elements:

  1. Where you are going: Your ultimate goal
  2. How you will get there: A clearly defined step-by-step path made up of objectives which lead logically to your ultimate goal
  3. What you need: The traditional (and non-traditional) requirements to reach each step. (Who says you have to take the usual path??!)
  4. Your ETA: Your ideal time frame…as well as explorations of ways and reasons to speed it up, or slow it down
  5. Who you will be along the way: What are your values? What standards will you hold yourself to? what kind of leader will you be?
  6. How you will exit at each step: Be specific (you can revise as needed) and always strive to make it a win-win
  7. What you will accomplish: When you set these intentions ahead of time, you are much more likely to meet them!
  8. What’s so great about that: Know what’s in it for both you and the organization

If you don’t already have one, I invite you to sketch out an exit strategy today. And see how it immediately impacts the choices you make and the actions you take.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and insights.

Wishing you an inspired week.


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