Letting go to exit stage left

exit stage left (third-person singular simple present exits stage leftpresent participle exiting stage leftsimple past and past participle exited stage left)

  1. To exit or disappear in a quiet, non-dramatic fashion, making way for more interesting events.  [quotations ▼]

  2. (imperative) Leave the scene, and don’t make a fuss.  [quotations ▼]

Letting go takes many forms.  Being a good corporate citizen, player, actor, role model, or any other words you choose all boil down to being an inspirational leader and knowing when to bow out.  This is a critical and valuable talent often overlooked in the pursuit of success.  Being #1 head honcho often drives us to be long in the tooth.  Great leaders let go all the time on the way to the top, or they would not be there!  It’s only a problem when they achieve this goal and stay well past the applause.  There is a great power in letting go, and we have not yet tapped it.  The one thing that is most amazing about the American political system our history of power transitions.  So let’s break this down into some use cases:

In the context of the growth:

Everyone who has come to the position of leadership, has let go.  Often  letting go is by desire or necessity.  We never like all the things we have to do at work, so we let those things go as fast as possible.  Management sees potential in someone and promotes them, forcing us to let go of something we enjoy.  In the lure of greater pay, responsibility, control of our work load, or our own aspirations, we take hold of the new opportunity and letting go is a by product.  Here is the rub, it’s a by product of what should have been premeditated and taught as a skill.  Demonstrated by our leaders.  Letting go while moving up the ladder of success is critical.  Being able to do that with planning and grace is a huge asset to everyone in any business.

In the context of transition:

In time, a particular skill set is not required for the company, or growth causes departments to be absorbed, moved, or reconfigured.  Business units are bought and sold.  People are made to retrain or retire.  The world is never ending and change is good.  In fact, it’s the nature entrepreneurship.  There are people more adept at transition than others, and sometimes we forgot that change is scary.  Not every one sees it coming and not every company makes it clear.  When the time comes for a transition it’s sometimes a horrible surprise, and that is not when people perform the best.  The one hope is that letting go has been trained into the workforce and individuals.  Not the scary threat of your job is always as risk, but that everyone has to be prepared to let go and grow.  This is a power that allows departments to respond well when broken up.  To allow companies to smooth M&A activities, and for CEO’s to pass the baton with grace.

In the context of Venture Capital:

This is the most difficult one to discuss in Silicon Valley.  First, let me state this controversial fact.  As the startup team, you are a commodity.  You are by definition expendable to the idea you created.  The great question:  “Are you prepared to be replaced as the CEO?” is the mantra in the startup community.  This is an untrained and unexplained expectation that is very poorly understood.  The Founder CEO is a journey of passion.  You do thing because you are fanatical  or at least devoted to the problem space.  Once you launch your company, you are married to it, and ironically reminded of that with investment.  Once the money is in, the discourse changes to commitment.  Life and death commitment to the investors and the success.  That is right up to your first mistake or your new investors who want to “go to the next level”.  The story is always the same, “Never give, Never surrender” and “It’s your baby, don’t let someone talk you down”.  Then comes that day when it’s time to bring in “Adult Supervision” and you are asked to step aside.  Which you said you would do enthusiastically when this whole exciting launch started.  The time has come for you to let go and now it’s going to happen by the next board meeting.  Can you do it?  Are you prepared?  Is it really best for the company at this time?  Can someone lead while you remain in a back office being the “founder” but not CEO?

Letting go is something everyone should practice in Corporate Yoga.  Knowing that change is here to stay and being flexible is critical.  That holding on too tightly prevents you from grabbing on to opportunity when it comes.  And worst, that it’s a personal anchor that can sink you if no one around you supports your holding on, and you become aggressive in your resistance .  Letting go in Silicon Valley is only seen in the context of a few “home runs” and does not address the +90% of people who have to suffer failure.  There is little to no support system and absolutely no training on letting go.  It is a mythological assumption of complete understanding by all the participants.  We are only passively trained to let go and expected to transition when the time comes.  We are trained to win the race, but seldom on how to pass the baton.  How to trust your team, and know that in your absence, your vision and leadership will remain.   I will explore each of these concepts in other posts.  The key here is to gracefully as possible exit stage left.  Don’t be left to get the hook.  It’s embarrassing for you, and greater rewards will come once you have let go.  You just might find that once you let go, other larger opportunities await you by the very people who forced the change.

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