“You’ve got to know when to hold them…and know when to fold them.”
Kenny Rogers – The Gambler
How many times in life were you told to never give up? Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1959-1967, famously said, “Winners never quit and quitters never win!” This is a concept that’s been drilled into our psyches for our entire lives. Contrary to this view, I believe it is acceptable for a leader to quit.
Part of the common body of knowledge for leadership training is to never give up. A leader is trained to constantly urge his team onwards towards victory. He or she should always be searching for unique solutions to complicated problems. He or she should never accept “no” for an answer.
But should you as a leader always push for completion? What if your team is facing an un-winnable situation? How long should you have your team continue to push against a brick wall? When do you make the call and throw in the towel? Is this a sign of failure for a leader?
Being a good leader means knowing when to quit. I don’t mean throwing down your pen and stomping out the door. I mean you must be willing to constantly reassess your team’s position and admit when you need to change direction. You and your team have finite resources. How you choose to allocate those resources means the difference between success and failure.
If you allow your team to continue moving down a path that is not generating results, you are allowing your team to fail. As a leader, you may feel reluctant to change course mid-stream due to the amount of resources already allocated to a particular course of action. However, just as in investments, the sunk cost of resources already spent is not a reason to stay with a bad strategy. The resources are gone and there is nothing you can do to bring them back. Start fresh, make a new decision and move out.
How do you know when to quit? There are two main ways as a leader you will know when it is time to move your team in a different direction; a data-driven empirical decision or a gut-level instinctual decision.
As a good leader, you should be already monitoring data about your organization. When you recognize a situation that is no longer recoverable and no amount of resources or time will fix it, be a strong leader and make the difficult decision to change paths. Stop doing what you have been doing and try a different strategy.
This one can be easier to diagnose but more difficult to defend. Just like that relationship in high school that you knew in your heart of hearts wasn’t going to make it, leaders often feel the same way about failing projects. As a leader in an organization, you’ve probably been doing that job for quite some time and know what works and what doesn’t. The key is trying to communicate that gut feeling in a way that is relatable to your team and your bosses.
“Strength is not when you don’t quit easily. Strength is when you quit something that you know was not meant for you.” Anurag Prakash Ray
An old Chinese proverb says, “Of all the stratagems, to know when to quit is the best.” As a leader, I know that you will find every single way for your team to succeed in whatever its task. Your job is to know what is working, what needs to be tweaked, and what needs to be abandoned. Have the strength to make those decisions. And it IS okay to quit…but just in that situation…