Last week in my weekly Gut Check, I asked an important question: Have you reached your best-before date as a leader?
A surprising number of leaders do not realize they have reached a point in their tenure when they are stale and no longer up to the task of leading. They stay too long, and end up bringing their organizations down as the quality of their leadership wanes.
This is a tough moment in the life of any leader. You must be able to gauge where you stand as a leader, if you’re to live up to all of your obligations.
Make no mistake – it is often very hard to see our best-before date coming. It can come at a time when our organizations are struggling; and we’re not finding a way forward. It could also come at a time when things appear to be going well.
How can you determine if you’re approaching your best-before date?
1) Do you still have an inspiring vision?
There’s an old saying, when there is no vision, the people perish. Leaders must create an inspiring vision for the people they lead. But we also need this vision for our own personal inspiration. If you can’t muster one up; it’s the first signal that your best-before date is creeping up.
2) Do you have the passion for leadership?
As a leader, you cannot afford to be ambivalent about your role. You need to be actively engaged, and passionately concerned about the people you lead and the future of your organization. If you are starting to loathe the drive into work or the very thought of being a lead makes you feel nauseated, then your best-before date is near.
3) Are you avoiding tough decisions?
One of the realities of leadership is that we must always be ready to make tough decisions, and have tough discussions. The capacity to confront the tough issues is one of the things we must provide. If you’re procrastinating more than you act, you’re getting stale.
4) Has your office become the place where new ideas go to die?
A lot of good leaders start off their careers encouraging innovation and change. And then at some point, as the stale date sets in, they lose their appetite for these important commodities. After serving as an incubator for new ideas, now you seem to spend all of your time articulating the reasons why people cannot do new things. If your office has become the place where good ideas go to die, it’s definitely time to move on.
There comes a time in the life of all leaders when you are simply not going to have what it takes to continue leading your organization. It’s inevitable. I find that the truly great leaders realize when that moment is fast approaching and step aside. They pave the way for others and then go look for a new opportunity that will truly challenge them.
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