The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI today after just eight years in office presents a great case study for leaders of any organization: When is the right time to step down? In the Pope’s case, there was really no pressure from outside stakeholders, since no Pope had resigned in the last 600 years. His motive was purely what was best for the organization. When a leader believes his capabilities are diminished or someone else would be more effective, he owes it to the organization to consider stepping down.
An experienced executive at another firm once approached me to take on my CEO position at NetQoS, a company my wife and I had founded. This was within a year of founding the company, and I was a relatively young CEO at age 35. I went to the board and offered to relinquish the CEO role. Even though I thought I was right for the job, I made the offer because my main goal was the success of the organization. If the board thought someone else would give the organization a better chance, I would have wholeheartedly supported it. The board didn’t feel that the other executive would be more capable, so they passed on the offer. A CEO with the right priorities will always put the organization’s success over his or her own career.