Leadership Follies: Know When to Quit

I Quit

Success in the workplace is determined by planning, scheduling, and efficiency. These are all aspects that must be considered when planning or working on any project in relation to your team and to your company.

Have you ever worked on a project or initiative that was not going well?  If everyone knew it was failing, why was there not even an attempt to stop it?  What does that cost us as leaders in our companies and organizations?

Take Action with Your Words

What Happens When We Don’t Know When to Say Enough?

Often times, under pressure, it is difficult for people to speak up and get the courage that they need in order to stop a project that is failing. It is unclear whether this issue is caused by a mixture of pride and hubris, dogged determination, or  just the feeling that “quitting itself is failure.” 

However, it struck me hard one morning on my way to a client that in order to be a highly productive team or organization, we have to know when to end an effort that is failing.

I passed a man holding a sign that read, “Hunger Strike, Protesting not being allowed to see children since 2001.”

He had been standing in the same spot for 11 years to protest, not being able to see his children due to divorce. I was struck by the fact he was standing in front of a train station that was nowhere near a courthouse or media outlet.  

When I asked him why, he stated that he had gone through his court appeals, and that no media outlet would listen to him. Because of this, his family had given up on his cause.  

He told me:

“I’ll never give up because I’m not a quitter!”  

He had lost his job, his house, his life savings, his friends, his family, and everything else.

Nothing at work seems that dire.  

Time to Take Note

Similarities between this man’s plight and unspoken clients in the workplace:

  • Unwillingness to remove a leader that was obviously failing because “it would make us look like we didn’t know what we were doing.”
  • Unwillingness to change a reorganization that occurred 2 years before because “the senior leader pushed for the reorganization, and changing things now would make him look bad.”
  • Unwillingness to change a marketing plan that not only want not working but was turning customers away because “we invested time and money into this and we are going to make it work.”
  • Unwillingness to find a new partner to work with on an employee survey that had proven to be flawed because “the senior leader that selected the vendor would be cast in a bad light.”

This list could likely be endless.  But why do we do it?

Failure to Quit

If your organization sticks with a mediocre idea, facility, or team too long because it lacks the guts to create something better, you have failed.

Failure to quit infects the health of your company like a disease.

Our unwillingness to admit when we are wrong, and “course correct,” limits our ability to grow, prosper, and drive innovation.

Scott Anthony, in a recent HBR blog wrote:

“That led me to think of the parallels inside some of my corporate clients. Most corporate cultures fear failure so viscerally that they will lock up great talent in a fatally flawed project, investing resources well past the point where everyone can see that the plug should have been pulled.”

What you can do better:

 Admit Failure; that there is a need to “course correct”

Honestly admitting that the initial original solution was not optimal is a sign of strength, even if the problem still needs to be solved.  

Leaders that can admit they are not perfect and are willing to change course are seen as winners. There are also seen as profitable… see recent news about Domino’s Pizza.  

“Failure is a necessary part of a flourishing innovative ecosystem. Not every idea is destined for greatness. A talented individual working on an idea with fatal flaws by definition isn’t working on an idea with transformational potential. When great talent is stuck working on the wrong things, the ecosystem as a whole suffers. The failure of failure leads to stagnation.”-Scott Anthony HBR.or

 Seek input from those affected by the “fix that failed”

The people affected by the failed solution can see the good, the bad and the ugly of how the solution worked and how to make it better.  With the firm knowledge that things can’t go back to the way that they were, everyone can work towards a more effective way to solve the problem.

“Implement the “new” solution and check to see progress. Change the course if it is not working. 

This is by no means saying that you should change direction at the slightest hint of upset or when the first issues arise, but when there is a consistent drumbeat of data that shows the solution implemented is not working, (New Coke, McDLT, Netflix’s recent issues only to name a few), admit it isn’t and change it!

Refusing to admit failure or that a solution implemented is not working is a recipe for killing innovation and inviting bigger failure in the future.  

Know when to quit so that energy can be put towards a plan, solution, or person that will make the difference.

As a leader do you see these failures in your workplace? Is it time for people in your organization to speak up? What can and will you do to fix this issue so that your company can thrive?


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Anil Saxena
 is a President & Senior Consultant Cube 214 Consulting
He helps organizations create environments that generate repeatable superior results
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | (847) 212-0701

Image Sources: good-wallpapers.com

One response to “Leadership Follies: Know When to Quit

  1. Pingback: The idea Exchange·

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