Are You Clear On The Triggers That Would Force You To Leave Your Leadership Role?

It was big-time news earlier this month when Jeff Jones quit his post as president of ride-sharing app Uber. And not just because it was the latest story to emerge from a company besieged by a wrath of negative news.

Over the past month, Uber has seen no less than seven prominent executives leave as the company struggles to deal with a series of scandals.

The company is facing more than a dozen class-action lawsuits from drivers in the United States and Canada who are demanding better pay and benefits. In Paris, Uber drivers shut down access to the city’s two main airports in December to protest low pay and no benefits.

If all that weren’t enough, the company has been hit with allegations that it turned a blind eye to rampant sexual harassment, prompting the company to launch a high-profile investigation of the claims by former Attorney General Eric Holder.

And then there is embattled CEO and founder Travis Kalanick, the man at the center of the Uber mess they are currently facing. In February, a video showed Kalanick berating an Uber driver in San Francisco after he complained about being forced into bankruptcy by the ride-sharing company’s frequent decisions to lower rates and hike commissions charged to drivers.

Kalanick apologized for his treatment of that driver, and has publicly admitted that he “must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.” To his credit, he admitted his mistake and is seeking help to become a better leader.

However, all the negative press has resulted in high-profile investors such as Arianna Huffington to come forward to settle the storm and support Kalanick and efforts to improve the culture at Uber. She commented that the company must evolve from hiring “brilliant jerks” and do a better job of developing their leaders.

With this as a backdrop, let’s come back to Jones and his decision to leave.  It’s important to note that he did so just six months after being lured away from retail giant Target. Speculation as to why Jones was leaving could have gone on for months if the departing executive did not issue a damning statement about his brief time at Uber.

“It is now clear … that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ride-sharing business.”

Clearly, Jones experienced and witnessed things that were misaligned with his own personal values, so much so that it caused him to depart only after six months.

Over the years, I’ve worked with many leaders in similar situations. They get to a point where they realized it was time for them to move on. Often, it’s driven by them no longer being inspired by the purpose and vision of the company. Other times, there is a conflict in values – the company is operating in a way that crosses a personal line with one’s own beliefs and sense of integrity.

Whatever the trigger, what is surprising to me is that very few leaders predefine the circumstances that would make them leave a leadership role.

People join and leave companies all the time. However, when it happens at the senior ranks, it matters. When senior leaders prematurely leave, it creates uncertainty and instability for the company, shareholders and employees.  That’s why these leadership decisions are so important.  And why, as leaders, we need to be very mindful when we find ourselves in this kind of situation. But many leaders don’t ever think about the conditions that would cause them to leave.

Certainly when they take on a role, they are excited to start and have a meaningful impact on a company. That’s what we all expect.

But rarely do I find leaders who pause even for a brief moment to ask: What would have to happen for me to leave? What lines would have to be crossed? What am I seeing now that is causing me a little concern or angst in my gut?

What would be your answer to these questions?

This week’s gut check asks: are you clear on the triggers that would force you to leave your leadership role?

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