Many leaders function well into old age; they may be slower, but they remain effective. However, many leaders don’t recognize they are becoming ineffective and continue in their role, sometimes to the demise of their organization. Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation last week, to the surprise of many. A Pope has not resigned in almost six hundred years. (see http://washington.cbslocal.com/2013/02/13/pope-im-stepping-down-for-the-good-of-the-church/ )
Pope Benedict realizes that his leadership effectiveness is being taxed and he is resigning “for the good of the church.” How many leaders recognize their own limits? How many followers have the courage to bring the matter to the attention of their leader? (Hey boss, we have been talking and think you should step down because you are having difficulty keeping up with your goals.)
We think leaders should step down long before they begin losing their effectiveness. Leaders can take their skills into semi-retirement and even have a second career in a non-profit or charity organization. Although Pope Benedict likely will continue to be active as an ex-Pope, he realized that his health is failing and it was time to turn the reins of leadership over to someone younger and in good health for the good of the organization.
Knowing when to step down takes courage. Too often, leaders continue until they begin to lose their energy, and is some cases their faculties. People talk about the problem but don’t know what to do about it. Meanwhile, the organization begins to flounder. The leader’s legacy changed from a positive recognition of great things accomplished to a negative recognition of an organization that is going downhill.
Think about when you should step down from your responsibilities. You know your health and stamina better than anyone. You know what you may want to do in your retirement. Go out when you are at your peak and put your energies into other endeavors, such as charity, family, and hobbies.
Additionally, as a leader make sure you have a succession management strategy. Leaders leave organizations for many reasons not just due to retirement. If your organization is prepared for critical vacant positions it can smoothly transition with the new leader. In the case of the Vatican, there are many potential successors so this shouldn’t be a problem for their organization. However, it is often common in many organizations where a successor is not identified in advance and consequently, leaving a gap in critical leadership candadates that can lead with the necessary skills and vision.