Do Not Overstay

As I write this, the city of Vancouver is saying farewell to two of their favourite citizens:  the Sedin twins.   At age 37, Henrik and Daniel are, to use hockey lingo, “hanging up their skates”.   They have spent 17 years with one NHL club and though they are clearly still very good at what they do and even though no one would “fire” or demote them . . . they made the decision to conclude their tenure with the Vancouver Canucks.   With dignity and grace, they left “at the top of their game.” 

What a contrast to athletes who overstay.  And administrators who have been very good at what they do, but rather than asking what is best for the organization and despite the reality that most people know they are no longer the right person for the job, they coast, no longer “full in saddle”, no longer providing the quality of leadership that this organization needs now, at this time.  Because of their long tenure or and as often as not because they are held in esteem for what they have accomplished, no one would dare ask them to step aside.   

But, people know.  They talk about it:  not with the person who needs to leave for the sake of the organization, but with each other . . . recognizing that the leadership that is needed for the organization cannot emerge because someone has overstayed. 

Of course, do not leave early or prematurely.    We need to know what it means to press through immediate challenges and set backs.  We don’t jump ship each time we get discouraged or face opposition.   But what I am speaking to here is the opposite problem:  staying past our “best by” date – that is, failing to recognize that there is a shelf life to our roles and that while an extended tenure may be essential to having a substantive impact, overstaying is ultimately a selfish act in that it keeps the organization from moving on and building on what has been accomplished during our tenure.    

Some have suggested that the US presidency has a genius built right into it:  you can only stay eight years.   No one is in for life.   And in many organizations there is a similar assumption or arrangement:  two terms, perhaps, for a maximum of eight years or in other cases ten years.  But then you come up against limited tenure.   This limit is good for all – for both the incumbent and for the organization. 

But if the organization where you serve does not have limited tenure in the key roles and responsibilities, then you need to take the lead.  Be the first to know that it is time for you to leave.   Take the initiative and start the process and transition “out” for your sake and for the sake of all.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.