9 Signs It's Time for You to Step Down as a Leader

It's never easy to move on from a business, but here are nine signs that it might be the right move.
9 Signs It's Time for You to Step Down as a Leader
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We all make mistakes. Even the most admired and successful leaders have made disastrous leadership mistakes. It’s actually one of the best ways to learn, grow and become more effective. At the same time, not everyone is cut out to be in such a dominant position.

One recent and much-publicized example is WeWork’s CEO, Adam Neumann. He was with the company since he helped found it in 2010. After WeWork failed to take the startup public, questions were raised about his behavior. Additional spiraling losses and corporate governance occurred. Say what you will about Neumann, but he made the right decision and stepped down.

Time will tell if WeWork can rebound. Maybe things would have played out differently if Neumann had walked away earlier. Of course, admitting that it’s time to part ways with your business is one of the hardest things a leader could ever experience, especially if they founded the company.

For the greater good, this self-awareness and honesty may preserve what WeWork has built and keep pushing it forward. But how can you tell it’s time to step down as a leader? Well, here are 10 glaring red flags that can tell you if it's time for a leader to step down.

1. You’re way too comfortable in your position.

You’ve worked your tail off to get where you are. But, there’s a big difference between being proud of your accomplishments and becoming complacent. When complacency happens, you no longer strive to do your best. You feel bored and go through the motions. Additionally, you stop seeking new opportunities and no longer stay up to date in your industry.

Successful leaders are those who continue to learn and grow. They push themselves out of their comfort zones. The leader shifts from SMART goals to HARD goals. HARD goals are: Heartfelt, Animated, Required and Difficult. These goals help to achieve their dreams and aspirations. If learning, growing, and pushing yourself is not how you're currently operating, then it may be time to pursue a new passion.

Related: Don't Be Complacent: 13 Proven Ways to Improve Your Business

2. Empathy is in short supply.

“The risks of turning insensitive and unkind to others increases as you become more senior,” Stanford professor Bob Sutton wrote in the McKinsey Quarterly. “Much research shows that being and feeling powerful provokes people to focus more on their own needs and wants and to become oblivious to others’ needs and feelings.”

Since empathy is the most crucial leadership skill one can possess, how you treat others is a red flag that it’s time to move on. After all, empathy creates a more loyal, engaged and productive workforce in your company. Cultivating this high emotional intelligence encourages you to be more present. 

Empathy can also impact how you communicate with others. For example, through empathetic listening, you’re in a better position to understand the person you're talking with. If an employee is momentarily overwhelmed with work-life balance, then you might brainstorm ideas with them on how to solve these issues. Like a finely tuned leader, you may suggest a flexible schedule for a few months or suggest someone they could talk with professionally.

If you ignore customer feedback, then your business isn’t addressing its pain points. As a result, your customers will go to a competitor who will listen to them. If a leaders' empathy is in short supply, the business will suffer in remarkable ways.

3. The idea well has run dry.

Even when I’m not at work, my mind is coming up with innovative ideas on how I can improve myself and my business. That doesn’t mean that I’m preoccupied with work 24/7. It’s just that I have a lot of ideas, and I’m always on the lookout for inspiration.

If this river of ideas suddenly dried up, I would be seriously concerned. Personally, it would be a sign that I’m no longer invested in my current venture.

4. Turnover has become too common.

It’s natural for team members to come and go. Maybe they have to move across the country or need a career change. But, when they start fleeing like rats on a sinking ship, then you know you’re headed for turbulent water.

While I’m in no way implying that your departing staff is disloyal, the point is, why would they stick around at a failing enterprise? Why would they want to continue to work with a leader who is disengaged? In all fairness, you can’t blame them for jumping ship.

Related: Staff Turnover Is Draining Your Company

5. You’ve become a shut-in.

You may not have become a hermit, but have you found yourself being more absent? Do you no longer mingle with your employees and customers? Have you stopped attending work-related and industry events?

Whether if it’s just wandering around the workplace, eating lunch with them, or scheduling one-on-one meetings, effective leaders spend time with their employees. It allows you to get to know them better and shows that you have a genuine interest in them.

Soliciting feedback from your customers will improve your business. Networking and speaking engagements can help build your brand and improve your bottom line. When you’re a shut-in, however, you can’t reap these benefits.

6. A toxic and harmful work environment has grown.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to foster a positive work environment. When you are promoting a pleasant work environment, employees are happier, work smarter, and are ultimately more productive. What happens when you aren’t actively maintaining a healthy work environment? It's an obvious point that if you aren't actively engaged in building, you will likely be dismantling or doing the opposite of what you previously did for your team.

What exactly does a toxic workplace look like? While it could vary, it’s often a setting where dishonesty, gossip and bullying run rampant. It’s where low performers are tolerated and ignoring feedback and denying reality are the norm. There will be breakdowns in communication and the implementation of poor policies and procedures. A disengaged leader begins to treat the employees differently, as well.

7. No one is knocking on your door.

Obviously, you don’t want to be interrupted when you’re focusing on deep work. But, leaders need to be accessible to their team when required. It’s also their responsibility to be a coach and mentor to others. You may even be asked to share some words of wisdom, either through interviews or speaking at industry events.

What happens when people stop seeking your advice? When someone no longer trusts you, they aren't going to come to you for anything. And to make things worse, they’re going to turn to other leaders.

Related: 3 Reasons Why I Make Time to Mentor

8. The stress is killing you.

Some have considered stress to be a silent killer, and it’s easy to understand why. When left unchecked, stress affects the cardiovascular, nervous, respiratory, musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal systems. Chronic stress can also influence your mood and decision-making.

If you feel like you’re always under the weather, or your primary care physician has mentioned that they’re concerned about your health, then your job may be the cause. Whether it’s because you can’t handle the pressure or you've just burned-out, it’s probably best to step aside.

9. Someone else is waiting in the wings.

Finally, is there someone else who would make a better leader than you? It’s not always easy to admit this — your ego probably won’t allow it. But, the most significant leaders do possess one great skill above the rest of them. One of the most famous examples was when Steve Jobs handed over the day-to-day leadership duties of CEO to Tim Cook.

Instead of being threatened by promising talent, groom them and prepare them as your successor. When the time comes for you to step down, you can rest assured that your business will be in good hands.

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