BLG Leadership Insights

A Noble Political Testament: When to Step Down

When we talk about the essence of pragmatic leadership we usually focus on the establishment and duration of leadership. By that I mean the majority of blogs and books deal with how to attain a leadership position and how to effectively lead once you are in a commanding position. Less attention is focused on transition leadership and power to another individual.

Even leaders as well regarded as Jack Welch and Sandy Weil have seen their prestige suffer as the result of the poorly executed transitional efforts. For an example of how to properly leave office, we can look to “the father of the country,” George Washington.

Washington released his farewell in the nation’s newspapers in September 1796. The President opened with a tribute to the people of the United States and offered an explanation as to why the time for his retirement had come. He emphasized the importance of union and the need to avoid sectional and factional divisions. He also warned the country against permanent alliances with foreign nations. By resigning voluntarily he was declaring that his allegiances were thoroughly republican. As Joseph Ellis in Founding Brothers notes, “Washington intended his address as advice to his fellow countrymen about how to sustain national unity and purpose, not just without him, but without a king.”

To date the United States of America is the most successful example of a colony transitioning into a successful democratic state. While I grudgingly give some credit to the influence of the English parliamentary system, I believe the success of our system lies in the effective transition initiated by Washington.

Replacing an executive doesn’t have to be a mystical process. In order to be most effective your team should get together and define the requirements of leadership, identify the key constituents who will participate in the process, articulate the context for the organization, and set a universally acceptable search criteria that accurately reflects a vision for the future.

Photo Credit: Wally G