Tired female sitting at computer

Why some leaders choose to clock out and move on

The individuality of leadership exits

Written by Professor Gary Martin FAIM
3 minute read
Tired female sitting at computer

When Mark McGowan announced he would resign his premiership and step down from politics, he expressed that it was due to exhaustion.

His resignation followed several other high-profile leaders across politics, sport, entertainment and business who have directly or indirectly cited burnout as the primary reason for hanging up the boots.

Their admission that burnout was the reason for their voluntary departure has again raised the importance of having good mental health.

The truth is that burnout – or having nothing more to give – is just one of many reasons why leaders decide to depart on their terms.

The multi-faceted decision to step down

For those leading a team, department or organisation, the decision to step down can be fraught and not easy to make.

But several signs might suggest it is time to step down, starting with asking yourself whether the current leadership role is still the right fit.

Some leaders feel their role no longer seems right and that they might be better suited to a leadership position in a different context.

Perhaps their team has gotten a lot bigger – or has been downsized – and therefore requires a completely different skill set.

It is also possible that the leadership role is standing in the way of other life goals such as travel, spending more quality time with family or taking on a passion project.

Passing the baton

At times, leaders decide to stand down on their own terms because they believe there is someone else who could do better, or because they have progressed as far as they can in their current role and are looking towards a new chapter in their career.

Many leaders also know it is time to bow out when they become bored with their role or are no longer challenged by what they do.

Others discover their organisation is heading in a different direction than what they originally envisioned, or that they have had enough of the office or boardroom politics.

It is also true that some realise their way of leading others no longer works. This might arise because they fail to connect as they once did with the people around them, there is a major change in personnel or simply a growing hesitancy to take the advice of those around them.

Importantly, many leaders decide to step down to minimise the damage and exposure to their future careers if they have become entangled in legal or ethical controversies.

Prioritising personal growth

Many leaders depart because they do not have “enough left in the tank” – an expression made popular by former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern when she retired from her role in January citing burnout.

At the same, a leader acknowledging they have nothing new to offer through prioritising their personal over organisational growth are other common reasons why those with leadership responsibilities decide to hang up the gloves.

The reality is each leader’s situation tends to be unique.

The reasons for their departure will most likely embrace a combination of factors – which might include that they are burnt out.