In a recent presentation I created a bit of a stir by suggesting the best time for an association CEO to craft an exit strategy was at the moment they accepted the position. Some in the audience thought that planning an exit strategy at the outset, meant you were entering into the new responsibility hokey-pokey style—one foot in, one foot-out. Sort of like planning for a divorce on your wedding day or starting a new dating relationship with a scheduled break-up planned in advance. The analogies miss the point. Prenuptial agreements aside for the moment, employment contracts and economic reality all suggest something different is afoot and exit strategies are a vital part of beginning anew. The absence of employer-employee loyalty, once endemic to corporate America has become a veritable pandemic and the non-profit world is not immune. Companies laid-off over 832,000 employees in the first quarter of 2009 alone. And turnover at the C-level is a growing trend in both the for- and non-profit sectors. According to Challenger, Gray & Christmas which tracks public and private company CEO departures there were 1,484 chief executives who went to the door in 2008.
My point is that in accepting a new position it is important you have a vivid concept of what the goals and expectations for your leadership tenure will be. Said differently, why are you taking the position in the first place? Have you established a set of personal milestones to assess your progress and satisfaction with the work? Does the work and your results align with your strengths, self-image and the expectations? And perhaps more importantly what will you do if it doesn’t? While most of us would agree leaving a post is the choice of last resort, knowing you have a plan, including the resources and support to do so, seems prudent rather than predictive.
Which left me wondering how often CEO’s and other leaders assess their own successes, goal achievements and personal satisfaction in their current positions. Do you have personal milestones in your current or new position or is it simply all about putting the work first and worrying about yourself later? How do you measure and manage the melange of goals—yours, theirs and the collective “ours”? Do you have an exit strategy? More importantly, should you?