The Very Best Leaders Know When to Leave

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Becoming a leader and fulfilling expectations is never easy – it can feel that there’s a huge weight on your shoulders and all eyes are on you at every given moment. It may sound odd, but even when you have struck gold and continued to lead your team to remarkable success, you should consider when the best time is for you to leave. Jurgen Klopp has recently confronted this hard-hitting truth.

The success of Klopp at Liverpool cannot be denied, he’s revamped the team on numerous occasions and gone head-to-head with one of the most decorated managers in history in Pep Guardiola – yet even with multiple trophies to his name, he has called time and shocked most with its sudden nature.

Some said quite loudly that he had been way too late in starting to rebuild a brilliant team – but sitting 5 points clear of the Premier League with a Carabao Cup final to play would suggest something different. Klopp simply stated that he was now tired and lacked the energy necessary to continue to give his best. For many in football and definitely for Liverpool fans – he had achieved what he needed to, he had injected a new belief and confidence not just to the players, the club, the fans but the area too.

Klopp set a high standard for Liverpool since joining, he got them back at the top level, reclaiming their legendary status – for both himself and the Liverpool team. He will be sorely missed.

Sometimes leaders overstay their welcome, and maybe Jose Mourinho’s savage sacking in Italy was a timely reminder for other leaders to consider taking the tough decision before their employers do. It is not easy to call it a day, especially after years of sustained success. It is always better to get out before inevitable disappointment and loss of trust grows within their team, but not many ever do.

There’s much more to this story than just what shook the world of football – it’s a lesson for leaders around the world. For decades, so many leaders have refused to leave their position despite a dip in performance or their colleagues losing their belief in them. It is never nice to be shown the door countless times. The likes of Boris Johnson and Margaret Thatcher continued to drain energy from their people right until the very end and had to be forced out the door – and it does feel like we are seeing a repeat with Rishi Sunak.

It takes a high amount of integrity and listening to your heart to be self-aware and courageous enough to make the toughest of decisions. It can feel like ‘sacking yourself’ or ‘turning your back’ on those that have given so much to you. It can be hard to see that your departure may well benefit the team more than you ‘hanging on’ for too long.

We saw Nelson Mandela leave at the peak of his popularity. A man who always fought for what was right, made the brave decision before he could risk a downfall. Excuse me for more football references, but the beloved Emma Hayes was at the very top with Chelsea and showed impeccable leadership by leaving and welcoming a new venture for herself and the club. You avoid any shame by accepting and owning the narrative, it takes someone truly special to leave on a high and you will have applause and praise – it’s a smart decision and nearly always ends with a smile on the face of the leader and the team.

I could list countless more examples of destructive leadership and courageous leadership, but it’s more important to touch on why and when a leader should take the ultimate hit.

When you’re at the top, most of the time there’s a downfall waiting right around the corner, the best leaders can usually deal with these. It’s not necessarily fear of failure that should lead you to call it a day, it’s far more about you than the environment or what’s around the corner. Do you need a break? Do you need to recharge? Have you given all you have to give? None of these are failures.

Nobody ever wants to be forced out, it’s the final nail in the coffin to say that you’ve lost the trust and respect of your team and people that rely on you.

As we move into new eras, there’s a need for new diverse leaders who may well be very different to you or what has gone before – what might be familiar isn’t always right. There is bravery within sacrifice, and that’s something we all need to be more aware of. Do not overstay your welcome, do what’s right for you and the team around you. By no means will it ever be an easy decision, but you will never be shamed for it.

Whether you are a leader or being led, there will be a time to leave – make sure you do it with dignity and gratitude. Nobody wants to see good leaders being forced out or fired.

The best leaders look to serve everyone but themselves.


Thought of the week:

Taking risks should be exciting not scary


Tips for becoming an A player:

  • Focus on the solution, never the problem
  • Search for those that are left out and bring them in today
  • Learn when to get out the way
  • Do not let anyone diminish your worth
  • Surround yourself with people different to you



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