Gut Check: Can You Admit When It’s Time To Step Aside?

June 22, 2015 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Can You Admit When It’s Time To Step Aside?This is a story you just don’t hear every day.

On June 15, Evernote CEO Phil Libin revealed he was stepping down and his company was looking for a new leader. I’m a big fan of Evernote, so this story caught my attention.

Libin was remarkably candid in releasing this information, admitting that the company he has led since 2007 would end up in the hands of “someone who is going to be better than me at it.”

“I’m a product person,” Libin was quoted as saying.

I’m sure you would agree with me: this isn’t the kind of behavior we typically see from many CEOs and senior executives.

When you track the ups and downs of business leaders, you’re more likely to see leaders hanging at all costs – even if it means that the company suffers as a result.

In this case, Libin seems to be a pretty humble guy who understood what his company needed next.

Evernote is an online note-keeping service and offers a number of free and paid productivity tools. At one time, Evernote was valued at more than $1 billion but its valuation and performance have lagged in recent years.

To me, the key part of this story is not, however, the fact that Libin is stepping down. It’s that he is admitting he is more of a product guy, and his company needs a “professional CEO.” That is a powerful comment.

Do Libin’s actions suggest that he no longer has what it takes to be a strong leader? Are his actions an admission of failure?


In my opinion, it’s about a leader who has the self-awareness to know where he adds his greatest value, coupled with the self-confidence to admit where he doesn’t. Leaders today need to consider both sides of this equation.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many leaders struggle in the exact same situation.

Some let their ego gets in the way. Admitting they are not good at something just isn’t possible given how they are wired.

For others it may be that their self-identity is so wrapped up into their role or title. In these cases, they can’t envision or define themselves in any other way.

Then again, I’ve seen leaders be so stubborn, often digging in their heels to stick around, only to be humiliated when someone else decides it’s time to go.

It’s time we change this story line.

The world of business is just too dynamic and uncertain today for any one leader to always have all the answers. I believe increasingly it will be seen as a sign of real strength when leaders can make the kind of moves like Libin has made.

In fact, Libin’s story underlines a point I’ve made over and over again in my writings: leaders must always do what is right for their organizations, not what is right for them. I repeat it again here because, unfortunately, far too few leaders get the point.

This week’s Gut Check:  Can you admit when it’s time to step aside?

Follow me @VinceMolinaro


About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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