Knowing the Right Time to Step Back As the Leader of Your Startup, and Why It Matters

Leading a startup is definitely no easy task, and what’s even harder still is knowing when the time has come to step down and make way for fresh leadership. This may seem like a step backward, but in retrospect may prove to be the right move that propels the growth of your startup forward. Here are the signs to look for when a change in leadership might be in order.

As your startup flourishes and evolves, it may come to a point where it outgrows your capacity and skill set as its leader. This isn’t a sign of your failing, it is actually the total opposite! You have led the startup so capably that it has progressed to the point where it needs to move beyond your leadership position as chief executive officer or some other c-suite role to continue moving forward, but that does not mean that your role as its founder is getting diminished anytime soon. After all, you are the one who made and established the startup from day one and have a better understanding of its inner workings and culture than most. Even though you may no longer be the main person calling the shots, the opportunity to grow along with your startup in a different role can be a rewarding and ultimately fulfilling journey.

It’s one thing to make a bad decision now and then, and an entirely different matter altogether when making a string of poor choices that digs a hole too deep for you to climb out of. At this critical juncture, the wisest choice may be for you to relinquish the reins at your startup and hand it over to a fresh pair of hands to guide it forward. The hardest part is accepting responsibility and letting go, but it’s definitely more preferable than hanging on for so long that you eventually lose the trust of your team members and peers, thus endangering the survival of your startup itself. Instead, take this time to explore new avenues of growth for yourself that may open the path to new opportunities and possibilities. You may no longer be the leader of your startup, but you still have the skills and experience that brought it from scratch to where it is today.

One crucial thing to look out for when leading is to see whether you are spending sufficient time and resources attending to important tasks or focusing too much attention on urgent matters. It is a slippery slope to fall into when the leadership of a startup begins to lose control of its own focus and direction and is stretched too thin by crises here and there. Usually this is a result of a poorly implemented system or culture in place at the organization, or the people there do not have the capability nor skillset to properly turn things around. This in turn creates a dire situation whereby those at the top are so preoccupied with putting out emergencies that they just don’t have the time or energy left to properly focus on the important things that contribute to success. These important things might include getting a product’s development on schedule, hiring the necessary talent to cover all the important roles, or just making sure that every aspect of the business is running smoothly. If these important things get pushed so far behind that they begin to severely impact the way you run things, that’s usually a telltale sign that you’ve already started to lose the handle on your startup. At this point, the best move may be to step aside and relinquish control for the sake of its survival.

Handing the leadership reins over to someone else more capable isn’t the end of your role in your startup. In fact, it may be the beginning of another journey that is no less crucial for you, just in a different capacity. After all, you have already proven that you have the proper skill set and experience to lead the startup to where it is today.