Wednesday, November 14, 2012

13 Associations Execs Share Comments on “How do you know when it is time to leave?”

Yesterday, I asked for comments and suggestions about my post “How Do You Know When It Is Time to Leave.”

Wow. Some great feedback that current CEOs should consider!

Here are the comments I’ve received to date. 

It’s Your Career (from Michael L. Wyland of Sumption & Wyland):
  • “Excellent discussion! Too many people, including executives, lose sight of the fact that they own and are responsible for their own careers. A career is not a job, but it's easy to sacrifice the strategy of building and executing a career when putting one foot in front of the other day-to-day.
  • My partner has a saying she sometimes uses with her executive coaching clients: "Job security isn't having a good job. It's having two offers on the table." 
  • CompassPoint's "Daring to Lead 2006" includes data indicating that 10% of nonprofit chief executives identified as currently searching for a new position, and 90% expected to be in a different position in five years. The same study indicated that about 1/3 of chief executive departures are involuntary; either termination or forced/"invited" resignation.
  • Stewardship of one's career is both frightening and empowering. It's essential for one's own career and economic protection, but it's also a great way to reconfirm that where one is is where one wishes to be. Having that self-knowledge and affirmation often increases job satisfaction and job performance.
  • One key step in career stewardship is networking. Cocktail party chatter is nice, but I'm talking about having colleagues who know, respect, and like you. People you can reach out to for advice and counsel. One key way to develop such a network is to *be* a colleague to others who reach out to you. "How can I help?" is a powerful question leading to all kinds of opportunities!
Feeling Great Every Morning (from Roger Wentz CAE, President and CEO, American Traffic Safety Services Association):

  • I love the quote you cite from Charles Rumbarger! I agree with 8 of your 9 "signals." The one I don't see as necessarily a signal is #6: “the leaders who hired you are on longer on the Board.” That can be the sign of an association with a deep bench and outstanding leadership development program!
  • I just had my 15th anniversary, so maybe that makes me a dinosaur ... but I test myself by asking if I still like getting up early in the morning and doing this job. The answer has always been "yes" so I haven't thought of leaving. And, we have a board that loves having staff introduce new "stuff" (a Tecker expression), so life is not repetitive.
Still Have More to Do (from Garis Distelhorst,CAE, Executive Vice President and CEO, Marble Institute of America):
  • In my case, I knew it was time to leave when I turned 70 years old, and discovered I still had a lot of things I wanted to do with my life besides run an association, and that my years may be limited. So, I decided to get on with the next chapter in my life starting January 1, 2013.
Plan an Exit Strategy (from David M. Patt, CAE, President, Association Executive Management):
  • Good point about being so focused you missed the signals. Well, you have to watch for the signals so you don't get fired or quit abruptly. Plan an exit strategy and don't leave your job (voluntarily) until you have another one lined up.
Loyalty, Voice & Exit (from Michael LoBue MS, CAE, President, LoBue & Majdalany Management Group): 
  • The conceptual frame I've found most useful for this very question is based on a treatise initially authored by Albert Hirschman in 1970. I read it in grad school (almost that long ago, but not quite :-). It was titled: "Exit, Voice, and Loyalty" and it had to do with acceptable moves customers make to product choices..
  • Loyalty -- the member of an organization (any organization or community) has an inherent obligation to be loyal to the group's mission and purpose. It's the default! 
  • Voice -- if for any reason the individual cannot be loyal to the group, that individual has an obligation to exercise constructive voice in an attempt to either correct what's not in alignment, or find his/her way back to being loyal.
  • Exit -- if voice doesn't work, or more than likely, they've lost the ability to be a constructive voice for change (could take a long time), then they owe it to everyone, themselves included, to exit the situation.
3 Enoughs (by Edward Bernstein, President, Industrial Research Institute Inc):
  • Somebody once told me that its time to leave when: you've gotten enough, when you've given enough and when you've had enough.
  • Other advice I've received specific to association management is to leave after 7 years. I've thought about this a lot, especially since I'm in my 7th year in my current position. It seemed right for my mentor and it seemed right for my previous position. I'm not sure what the dynamic is.
  • I think its because under normal circumstances, everybody who was in leadership or on the leadership ladder when you were hired has now rotated off. The new generation of leadership doesn't have the same vision that you aligned with when you were hired. In that case, friction is bound to develop and to be fair to the organization, you may no longer be the person for the job - regardless of your ability to lead an association.
  • PS. Since I know my staff reads this listserv, I am not thinking of leaving my current position. I happen to be at a great place and the coming year is so different from the previous 7 that its like I'm starting anew, completely aligned with the direction set by the Board. (at least I think so.)
When to Take My Name off the Door (from Maura Gast FCDME. Executive Director, Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau):
  • One of the best things I've ever seen or read on this was legendary ad man Leo Burnett's "When To Take My Name Off the Door." I read and re-read it often.
  • Here's a You Tube version -
Board Not Willing to Change (by Sherry Marts Ph.D., CEO, S.Marts Consulting LLC):
  • I would add one more based on my own experience.
  • When proposing new ideas or updates to current programs, you are repeatedly told by your Board "But you don't understand, this is the way we have always done it and we are not going to change."
Reinventing Yourself (by Cate Bower FASAE, CAE, IOM, Co-Founder,Cygnet Strategy, LLC):The 'rule of 7' that Edward cites is one I've found holds across more than 35 years of working with associations. His perspective about changes in volunteer leadership is an interesting one, but I think it goes beyond the impact of others on you. And as he rightly points out, it doesn't mean you have to change associations every 7 years. But if you aren't reinventing your job and refocusing the way you think about and approach your role, you run a very high risk of getting stale and complacent.

Survey Says (by Robert Van Hook FASAE, CAE, Transition Management Consulting):
  • This is an excellent discussion that links in with what we know and don't know about executive tenure.
  • In August 2010, Transition Management Consulting (TMC) fielded a brief questionnaire on the ASAE Executive Section listserv on the topic of Chief Executive Officer Tenure and Succession. The solicitation limited responses to people serving in chief staff executive positions in associations and nonprofit organizations, which we termed "CEO" for clarity and brevity. The questionnaire was open for only 8 days and had a total of 84 responses.
  • When asking CEOs about the cues they have experienced that it was time to leave their positions, they identified various forms of boredom or repetitiousness as the primary cues, while others identified problems with their boards and their reactions to them. The answers to these questions were similar for both CEOs who had been in their positions for 10 years or less and for more than 10 years.

Have a Transition Plan (by Ladd W. Smith, PhD, Dipl ABT, Fellow ATS, CAE, Mista Group, LLC):

  • I'm continually amazed at the lack of preparation for transitions.
  • As individuals, we all need to be prepared, and continually network. I'm currently helping a family member who was just downsized after working for the government for 20 years. Despite my cautions over the years, he never interviewed or applied for an outside position, although he did maintain his CV. He's now playing catch-up.
  • It seems such a simple thing for boards to develop a succession plan and to review it periodically. I suspect CEOs may hesitate to put such a topic on the agenda, though it would serve both parties well.
When You are Primary Topic (from Glenn Tecker, Chairman and Co-CEO, Tecker International LLC):

  • My colleague Leigh Wintz recently had an excellent article (How a CEO Can Leave Gracefully)on this subject published in Associations Now. 
  • I'd also add one more indicator to the great list already compiled: "Its time to leave when the CEO becomes the primary topic of discussion."

3 Other Reasons to Go (from Bob Bolan, retired)

  1. You have achieved success!
  2. You have used up your skill set and/or goodwill.
  3. You have served well for 7, 8, or so years and both you and the organization need new challenges.
  • In my personal case for example, I was CEO at the American Diabetes Association (ADA) from 1980 to 1990. When I arrived in 1980, the association was losing money, had a negative fund balance, and had no strategic plan or direction. During 1980-81 we stabilized the financial situation, 1981-82 we organized a strategic governance process, 1982-84 we focused on major improvements in medical care nationwide, 1984-87 focus went to improvements in public awareness and patient information, and 1987-89 focus went to improvements in local delivery (chapter fund raising and patient support performance). During all ten years, we vastly increased research funding and Federal research advocacy. The national revenue total went from $11 million in 1980 to $56 million in 1990. Perhaps most important, I used my own time mostly on governance: improving Board strategic attention and conducting intensive staff development. 
  • I was ready to leave in 1989, but for personal (family) reasons I waited until 1990. My last year was not satisfying and I did not perform nearly as well. I did, however, arrange for the three primary staff executives to have one-year guaranteed tenure when I left in 1990. The top staff people when I left went on to become CEO of ADA (John Graham, now ASAE CEO), National Health Council, Epilepsy Foundation, and four other major associations. My #2 exec continued in that role under John for another decade until her retirement. 
  • My view is that CEOs who are doing a good job deploy fully both their skill sets and their goodwill over about a decade of service. The best CEOs, I believe, should stay in position somewhere between 7 and 10 years, and then move on -- continuing this process until they are ready to retire. 
  • In my case, I worked the last seven years of my career as the Interim CEO of a different association each year; a very satisfying way for me to work in accountable positions until the time when I was ready to retire. The feeling of "going out when things are going well" is wonderful. 

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