Great Leaders are Good Quitters

Great Leaders are Good Quitters

I have been fascinated with the book Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away by Annie Duke. You can find an insightful interview with Annie Duke about the book here and the Books Applied Podcast episode on the book is here. It is clear to me now that great leaders need to be good at quitting.

Annie Duke says that when we’re ruminating on a stressful situation, we’re wasting energy and should have quit that thing. How many of us have spent time wrestling with the decision to stop doing something, quit working with someone, or stop pursuing a goal? I know I have.

Annie is clear that quitting doesn’t just apply to a specific project or relationship but also to the status quo. We are choosing to maintain the current state of things the same way we could choose a different path. You can quit the status quo!

I’ve worked with many leaders who need to quit tolerating crap behavior that is burdening their team and limiting goal attainment.

Managing work relationships can be stressful for leaders, and doing nothing seems like it saves energy, but defaulting to the status quo in every case, cultivates team toxicity.

Usually, working with a teammate to change their unhelpful behavior is an excellent first step toward quitting a toxic-leaning status quo. Coaching leaders to have those behavior-changing conversations is a straightforward process. Motivating leaders to take action and actually have those conversations can be more difficult.

Now, armed with Annie Duke’s research, we have more access to understanding why people hesitate to have those conversations and how much energy is wasted on rumination about them. You simply will be better off after quitting that detrimental situation.

Knowing something is good for us is not always a strong motivator. Leaders who value their relationships with their teammates still struggle when they think someone may be disappointed or react negatively. They ask how to quit tolerating poor behavior gracefully or in some way that no one has hurt feelings. I can unequivocally tell you that no time, place or word choice will make a complicated conversation easier.

The only thing that makes those conversations easier is practice - as in having more of those conversations with real people in real situations (as opposed to extensive role-playing or thought experiments).

Annie goes into many reasons we create for ourselves and societal pressures not to quit something. It’s clear that when it comes to behavior that is creating toxicity, you can’t quit tolerating that behavior soon enough.

There are many other projects and directions that great leaders are called on to quit so they can focus the team’s energy on more productive pathways. Practicing quitting in all these situations makes it easier to make necessary changes. It will save your time and energy that is directed toward rumination (or a lost cause).

When you are debating whether you should quit something, take that cue to quit that thing as soon as possible. The internal debate signifies that your energy would be better used elsewhere. Especially as a leader, it's better than the status quo. Great leaders are good quitters.


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