How to know when to step down

If you’re loving what you do, why stop? When you’re keeping the next generation out of the room, perhaps it’s already way past time.

Throughout my working life I’ve seen two phenomena playing out side-by-side, but hardly ever discussed in the right places. In one room we have The Leaders, having discussions and making decisions. Outside in the corridor we have The Young Folk, discovering new possibilities and innovating new ideas.

This is how it’s always been – two tribes who need each other but are doing their thing in different rooms. 

But is it the right order of things? I’m increasingly uncomfortable with it, for a number of reasons:

  1. The thinking that got us here often isn’t enough for tomorrow’s opportunities or challenges. No matter how great the past was, it’s easy for leaders to keep doing what worked then, heedless of a different context around them. 
  2. It’s hard for a diverse workforce or community to be fully engaged or inspired by leaders who look and sound very different from them.
  3. By the time the people round The Table realise they’re all thinking the same way, they’ve often already stagnated. 
  4. It can take time even for the best new leaders to realise their potential, but often there isn’t space for them at The Table until they’re already beginning to wane.

Be honest: does someone need to leave your table?

So if you’re an established leader, particularly if you have a formal position as a leader, can I ask you to take a good honest look around your tables (physical or virtual)? Who’s here, making the decisions? Do they look like the people you’re collectively leading? Do they all look like you? How long has it been like this?


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