Career Planning: How to Know When It’s Time to Go

Several incredible careers came to an end in the last week in pop culture and in sports, and they can serve as examples for association leaders pondering their own exit strategy.

Going out on a high note is something every professional dreams about doing: retiring a champion, walking off a winner.

In the last week, it happened several times: NBC’s “The Office” closed its doors after nine stellar seasons; soccer superstar David Beckham announced his retirement after a successful 21-year career; and Manchester United’s long-standing manager, Sir Alex Ferguson—one of the world’s most decorated soccer coaches—announced he will step down after 27 seasons.

But for an association leader, how do you know when the time is right to make that next career move, whether that means moving on to another association or hanging up the uniform and calling it a career?

“There are two messengers on this question: the internal voice and the external signals,” said Pegotty Cooper, IOM, FASAE, leadership and career strategy coach with Career Strategy Roadmap. “Sometimes they can feed one another, and sometimes they are independent.”

The internal voice asks that nagging question that keeps sneaking into your head, asking if you still find value in your current position or if the job still stimulates you. “It is important to explore your platform of values and get back in touch with what is most important to you instead of trying to silence that voice,” Cooper said.

Leaders who ignore this voice run the risk of becoming ineffective and harming the organization’s work, she said. “Losing the juice sometimes doesn’t reach the conscious part of the brain, and the executive keeps playing the role—convincingly, he or she believes—but the audience can see right through the guise.”

This leads to the external signs, which can be red flags (warning signs within the organization) or green flags (opportunities elsewhere), both of which are hard to ignore, Cooper said: “Many times it is mixed signals from the board that it’s time for change, or the board can see that the executive has lost energy in their position, biding time as they decide to either move on or retire.”

No matter the reason for the decision, acting on it often requires a leap of faith.

“One of the things it takes in that situation is courage that there will be another chapter that opens,” said Cooper. “For executives that have a large national or international reputation it’s not so hard because they know that they’re in demand. But for somebody that comes from a smaller organization, it’s having the confidence that you’re going to be able to go out there and create the next opportunity for yourself.”

How would you know when it was time to move on? Share your thoughts in the comments.

The long-running NBC hit "The Office" was just one pop-culture icon to end its run this month. (NBC photo)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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