By David Levy
Lord Sebastian Coe was considered one of the best middle-distance runners of all time, the British Olympic champion who set 12 world records in four different distances, achieved four gold and three silver medals in the Olympics and European Championships.
When he was asked why he retired from competitive athletics at a fairly young age instead of pushing his career further, he said "My motivation to compete was always about improving one year to the next. At 34 I realized that I'd never run any quicker, so why hang on?"
Brett Tromp the CFO of Discovery Health wrote an article about his discussions with Coe and said that Coe's decision to retire once he realized he could no longer run faster is applicable to the world of business leadership. Coe reminds us that as a leader, if you are not moving the ship ahead, it's time to step aside. This does not necessarily mean stepping down or that you are giving up and letting go of your hold on everything, it simply means that you realize that the time has come for you to progress to a new challenge where you can continue to learn, grow and make a difference.
I worked with an executive who was a successful CEO for many years and who effectively stepped aside. His challenge was how to be supportive where his input was requested and to otherwise keep out of the way.
Coe went on to enter politics and was appointed chair of the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games, leading London in its bid to host the Games. He was praised by the Prime Minister, who might have been somewhat biased, for 'lifting the hearts of the nation' and for organizing the 'most successful Games of modern times.'
Tromp posits that mature leadership boils down to moving on when you recognize you are either slowing down the pack, that your skills can be better used elsewhere, or that stepping aside is necessary for someone else to flourish. Too often we have leaders who for a variety of reasons just do not, or will not, move on.
When a leader steps aside, and it's often seen in the sporting world, it is sometimes viewed as a failure whereas those able to see the essence of the decision, see such a person as a brilliant leader who recognizes that they cannot always lead in the same area, and who steps aside to make way for others and who finds new ground to thrive on.
Leadership boils down to putting the needs of the business and others before your own.
The business blogger Richard David puts it this way: "Leaders who put their own gratification above the needs of others lack the ability to see the long term consequences of their actions. This does not bode well for them, the economy or our country. It's time we start counting emotional maturity and control among the 'must-haves' for leaders everywhere."
Where are you on this spectrum?
David Levy works with many companies utilizing his business improvement strategies to improve their effectiveness and maximize their profitability. He works with owners and helps with the tough decisions and helps businesses, and their people, grow.