Creative Leadership

When Stepping Down is Your Greatest Act of Leadership

After the remarkable (and long shot) victory in the Revolutionary War, General George Washington was considered the greatest hero of the young republic.  He risked his fame, fortune, family, and even life in taking the job leading the colonial forces.  Plus, what many don’t know is that he wasn’t even paid to do it.  But after the victory, he was hailed a hero, and was in a remarkable position of extraordinary power.  At one point, he was even offered the job of being King of the United States – and yet he turned it all down to return to his family and a life of obscure farming.  When King George III heard that Washington had turned down the offer to be King, he remarked:

“If that is true, he must be the greatest man in the world.”

The trajectory of leadership isn’t always up.  Sometimes, stepping down is the greatest act of leadership.  In Washington’s case, his walking away allowed a fledgling new republic to stand on it’s own, and create a nation that was represented by the people and for the people.  Stepping down gave other leaders the breathing room to create the kind of democracy other nations would envy and admire.

Never close the door to stepping down or letting go at the right time.  It could be the great act of leadership you’ll ever accomplish.

Photo by Stephen Oliver on Unsplash

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  1. Phil-
    Great story and insight. Far too many businesses (and ministries) have failed and been forgotten due to leadership being in place for longer than effective. We all need mentors and Godly friends who will help us see what is often obscure to us. Bad leaders need to go, yes, but good leaders often need to go at the right time for the good of the ministry and the legacy they leave. Going out at the right time is never wrong.

  2. Reality helps… 🙂
    Actually, it takes real courage to step down at the right moment. Truth is, the vast majority of leaders fail at this incredibly important task…

  3. Thanks, Phil!

    Very appropriate as I get ready to step down. Although I don’t consider myself as “great” but I know God will use my absence to bless many others.

  4. This is good, but isn’t having a succession plan really the key here? I would think that the “right time” means having one in place before one steps down, the right successor to lead and carry on the work, mission, goals, objectives, etc…if not the company or org will likely crumble in short order. the challenge is passing the batton to the right person at the right time…

    1. Succession plans are critical, and you’re right – most people wait way too long to pull that trigger. But that’s probably another blog post… 🙂

  5. This makes me also think of all we miss if we grasp, strive or fight to keep a position. When reading your post my mind instantly went to the fact that Washington then ended up guiding our nation as it’s first leader. To this day he is seen as a beloved father when he could have been a tyrant.

    1. Great thought John. I’ve discovered that leaders who connive, strive, and plot behind the scenes to get the top spot usually end up in failure. But the leaders who understand timing, flow, and aren’t pushing end up with the longest (and most effective) tenure…

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