Why learning to walk away is the secret sauce to strong leadership

Entrepreneur, change agent, enforcer, supreme commander. Whatever your role, you show up ready to play, walk-up music blaring in your head and laser focused on leveraging everything in your strategic plan for the win.

Now, let’s have a conversation about being done.

One of the hardest decisions I make as a CEO is when to say, “It’s over.” Quitting a project, letting go of staff, moving away from a corporate partner, taking a goal off the table or a department off the org chart is one of the most challenging and important parts of the job.

Like me, you don’t even consider that enticingly bold idea without extensive due diligence: working up the SWOT analysis, gauging the ROI and playing out risk vs. reward. You’ve scrutinized the downsides, listened hard to why it’s a bad idea and answered the scorching questions before stakeholders can get to them.

Your facts, experience and gut tell you to commit to taking on the employee/project/company. And then months/years/decades later, things go left of center.

The signs are all there: nasty bottom line, faulty resource variables, downturn in the marketplace — the list goes on. The thing is, all too often, the C-suite stays the course, even when the signs are abysmal. Fact: loss can be abundantly additive. Yep, I know that line is the polar opposite of every TED talk you’ve ever viewed on entrepreneurial initiative. But I’m here to tell you it’s the secret sauce to strong leadership.

Here’s why:

Utilizing vantage point
Tunnel vision is a luxury you don’t have. Leadership requires 360 degree scans of the terrain to identify obstacles, assess damages and keep your ear to the ground for the warning sirens.

Shifting commitment
The “buck” kicks off and stops with the leaders of any given staff/project/organization. Which is exactly why it falls to leaders to identify the loss, triage the situation, make the hard changes and refocus the team.

Building buy-in
As a strong leader, you were going to make the tough changes anyway. With that in mind, identify the loss with your team and challenge them to make decisions that will result in good outcomes. Accountability — with support and cover from you — enables them to put the right kind of skin in the game.

Making changes in real-time
Regardless of the size of your organization, flexibility and agility are crucial — and these qualities require confidence to fully kick in. Let’s face it, change is moderately terrifying. But you’ve assembled a great team and you all know your stuff, so lean in and put your energy in the right place.

Framing correctly
Failure isn’t in your lexicon. Knowledge, skill and resources can only develop in an ecosystem that includes hard work, constructive criticism and a, “Yep, we’ve got this” attitude. Your team is going to look to you to positively position them for future success — and witch hunts don’t move anything or anyone forward.

Done for good? Good for you!

Terry Davis is president and CEO at Our Lady of the Wayside