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How Do You Know When It's Time to Step Down?
It almost seems as if some cosmic alarm went off this week that was only audible to exceptionally successful leaders, signaling that it was time for them to reconsider their position at the top. Steve Job's resignation as the CEO of Apple on Wednesday was maybe the biggest announcement, if the least shocking, and earlier this week, Pat Summitt, the "winningest coach" in college basketball history, revealed that her position as the head of the University of Tennessee women's team would be complicated by a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's. Then yesterday, the pioneering blogger Jim Romenesko, whose intelligent writing about news and media captivated even those who didn't carry a press pass, said that he was retiring from the Poynter Institute blog that bears his name.
These mid-life changes-of-plans got us thinking about how to recognize when it's time to make a change.
For Jobs and Summitt, health conditions compromised their abilities to meet the high standards they set for themselves. "I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple's CEO, I would be the first to let you know," Jobs wrote in a recent letter to Apple's board. "Unfortunately, that day has come." As the world knows, Jobs underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer in 2004 and has been on medical leave from Apple since January. He has kept the details of his illness mostly private, but it seems his illness has led the 56-year-old to hand off control of his company to a successor, Tim Cook.
Summitt received her diagnosis of dementia earlier this summer. Her public admission of dealing with a brain disease that affects memory and judgment while remaining in a highly visible job requiring exactly those skills is brave indeed. But it sounds as if Summitt has a contingency plan: She'll still coach the Lady Vols but says she'll be leaning on her staff "like never before."
Romenesko's departure was prompted by something very different. “My role kind of vanished," he told the New York Times. Romenesko also acknowledged feeling somewhat disoriented by the social media revolution. The 57-year-old former newspaper writer will be going back to old-school reporting about media as well as topics like food, finance and real estate. He's said that he's looking forward to sleeping in, working less and finally taking a vacation.
The instincts that made these leaders successful are now guiding them towards their exits, and that serves as a reminder to us to think about not just when it's time to move on but the best way to do so--for us and those who depend on us.
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