I’ve never spent more than seven years in an organisation. The average is about four. Any longer than this and I’m “cooked” – tired, burnt-out and bored. It’s a pattern for me. And I know that if I stay beyond this there’s a risk I’ll end up doing the things I like to do, rather than what the organisation needs me to do. This isn’t good for anyone (me included). I learnt this the hard way. So I move on and hand over the reins to someone new who can bring with them different ideas and perspectives.

I think I’m fortunate that I’ve learned to understand my “use by date” and the patterns of behaviour that occur as I approach it. It has helped keep me fresh and excited.

So what are some of the signs to watch out for? Here’s a few:

  • You lack passion and are going through the motions
  • Your energy levels are low and you’re always tired
  • You dabble and micro-manage
  • Your primary focus is on the present, not the future
  • You avoid contact with your staff, suppliers and customers whenever you can
  • You are regularly saying “we tried that before and it didn’t work”
  • You blame others when things go wrong
  • Your personal interests consume more and more of your business time
  • You avoid business travel and work from home more frequently

At the organisational level your staff will be heard saying things like “we have to make this sound like it is the boss’ idea otherwise he won’t agree with it” and “there’s no point trying to do this – the boss will never agree.” In the end the good people leave, unable to make a difference, and the bad ones stay, perpetuating the status quo.

A CEO or senior executive who doesn’t recognise these warning signs is dangerous from both a cultural and financial perspective. Typically organisations with leaders like this are running companies that are stuck in the past, resistant to change and have high staff turnover and low morale. It is impossible for an organisation to think strategically in these circumstances and this makes it vulnerable.

Knowing your use by date and then departing gracefully is an acquired skill. It might be more comfortable to stay but ultimately that will end badly unless you can rediscover your passion and drive. That’s tough to do in an organisation where you have history, however, and is often easier somewhere else where you can come in fresh and re-invigorated.

So be brave, move on and create a new path if you think you are nearing your use by date. It’s a better option than a forced (rapid) departure invariably described as “leaving to pursue other opportunities” but really meaning that you had outlived your welcome and breached your use by date…