Knowing When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

The start of the new year is traditionally a time for fresh starts, new perspectives, and transitions. I was reminded of this recently when two close friends – both long-time, high-performing senior operating executives in their firms – confided their intentions to leave their positions this year.

Both had similar reasons – in essence, they were mis-aligned with their companies’ visions and values, and they couldn’t (or didn’t want to) fight the battles there any longer.  Their situations led me to wonder, “How do you know when it’s time to say good-bye?”

Signs and Signals

When one – or certainly, a few – of the following are true, it may be time to move on to greener pastures:

  • Lack of resources – when your division is consistently the profit-driver of the company, and just as consistently is under-resourced when capital expenses and operating budgets are decided on
  • Lack of trust – when you’ve delivered results year after year and ownership still doesn’t trust you with full profit-and-loss information … for your own division
  • Lack of confidence – when you’ve hoped against hope every year that the company leader grows in skill and wisdom, and they haven’t done so to any appreciable degree
  • Lack of strategy – when you keep trying to discern a consistent strategy or direction based on executive decisions, but there’s no clear pattern or way forward
  • Lack of shared values – when you believe leadership means well, but when push comes to shove, they don’t treat employees the way you would treat employees
  • Lack of peer support – when you’re ostensibly part of a “team” of “peers” each with their own very different agendas, and the only commonality seems to be that you sit in the same meetings together
  • Lack of hope – when you’ve tried to protect your team from the follies and foibles of management, but just don’t have the stamina to do so any more; when you’ve tried to look on the bright side hoping things will change, but can no longer say with conviction that you see sunshine over the clouds;  when you (like Sisyphus) have always eagerly pushed the boulder up the hill knowing that it’s likely to fall back down again – but you just don’t have the heart to do so any more.

One might ask how intelligent, talented individuals – not lacking in career options – would put up with one, much less several, of the situations above … for years … before coming to conclusion that it was time to move on? The truth, I believe, is that successful people are often positive-thinking, optimistic people – confident (sometimes overly so) in their ability to overcome obstacles, to “change the world” or at least “fight city hall,” as it were, and come out on the other side.

Sometimes, though, we need to recognize that we’ve fought the good fight; we’ve done our best to improve the situation, but it has improved as much as it’s going to improve, and it’s time for us to sow seeds of hope and helpfulness in different and more fertile ground.

How do you know for sure?  One final sign: When you confide your intentions to a trusted friend, and they smile kindly but knowingly and say, “So … what took you so long? I’ve been waiting to hear you say that for years!”  Then, you know for sure.

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