Knowing When it’s Time to Move On

Jun 05, 2000

Exit stage left. If you are like most of our readers, you are probably a CEO, managing partner, president, chairperson, majority stockholder, or major shareholder in the A/E/P and environmental consulting firm you work in. You’ve probably been doing what you do for 15, 20, 30, 40, or more years. It’s inevitable that at some point you will think it’s time to move out of your role. It doesn’t mean you have to retire or do something totally different. Maybe you’re thinking about stepping aside, though, to give someone else a chance at the wheel. Maybe you’d like a new position that’s not quite as intense, or one that doesn’t require as much travel, or one that doesn’t take so much of your time. Or maybe deep down you feel you are doing your firm a disservice to hang on in the job you are in. Perhaps things are changing faster than you want to change. It’s not that you can’t do it, but that you don’t want to do it. There are other priorities, other needs in your life. If any of these thoughts have occurred to you, how do you know when it is time for a change? Here are some of my thoughts on this subject: Do you have someone in mind who could do what you’re doing? If you are a responsible steward of the organization you have been entrusted to lead, then this is the first consideration. I hate to say it, but your own needs, as important as they are, may be second to those of the people who work for you. This is especially true for founders and majority owners. You can’t shirk your responsibilities to the people there and just throw your keys at them on the way out the door. Too many people depend on you. The key is having someone else to hand your keys to, someone you trust has the right attitude, spirit, and, and intellect to be a responsible leader. Or maybe it’s more than one person. Not that I would appoint a committee, but perhaps your job can be split amongst more than one individual. Either way, there has to be someone you’ve been grooming who’s ready to take on the job if you are going to move on. Are you taking more out of the organization than you are now contributing? I’ll be the first to admit this is not an easy question to answer. While some principals have an inflated notion of their contributions to the system and are a net drain, others are so self-critical they think the only measure of their worth is billable income. And if that’s down, they’re down on themselves. You need to talk to some of your peers in other companies about what they do (and what they extract). Talk to your second lieutenants to see how they feel about you, and take a good look inside yourself to answer this question honestly. If the answer is that you are taking too much relative to your contribution, act. Don’t wait until everyone else is demotivated and the firm (or unit you are in charge of) is going downhill! What do your spouse (or significant other) and family members think? Do they want you at home more? Or do they think you’d be happiest doing what you are doing? Not that they have the final say, mind you, but the people closest to you sometimes have insights into your needs that even you don’t have yourself. They should be consulted on this issue. On the other hand, don’t count on your spouse or kids to think that whatever you extract from the firm on your way out the door is going to be enough. They will probably think you are entitled to more than you’re going to get. Don’t forget, they most likely made sacrifices along the way in the form of your absence over the years, and they want a payback. Plus, they care about you and want to see you get the best. But be careful. They don’t run your business and may be a little shortsighted or even selfish, so you can’t blindly listen and act on their input. No doubt, there are many more factors to consider if you are thinking of moving on. My best advice is to proceed with caution, follow your instincts, and act once you know what you want. Originally published 6/05/2000.

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