Do You Have an Exit Strategy?


World’s #1 CEO Coach Mark Thompson and I talk about knowing your exit strategy before you start any job, role, or opportunity — a topic that most people don’t consider until far too late. We look forward to your ideas on how we can all make this a focus right from the beginning.

Do You Have an Exit Strategy?

By Marshall Goldsmith

Both the American Management Association and I agree that Mark Thompson is the World’s #1 CEO Coach. Having been involved in more than 70 engagements with boards leading vast organizational transformations, Mark specializes in coaching leaders in high-profile roles who have incredible impact and reach.

A four-time CEO himself, Mark is a great friend, a member of our 100 Coaches initiative, and the best-selling author of Now Build a Great Business, Success Built to Last, and Admired.

In this week’s interview, Mark and I discuss a topic that most people don’t even consider until it’s very late in the game. This is a poor strategy! As you’ll learn this week, far better to go into your next position, role, or opportunity with your exit strategy in mind.

Marshall: I’m honored to be talking with you Mark. One of the things that we talk about, which I’m living right now as I get older and move on from executive coaching, is the concept of exit strategy and knowing when it is time to move on.

Mark: How do you know?

Marshall: It’s hard to say exactly. One thing we’ve talked about is the funny delusions that we have to stay.

Like, “Well, the organization needs me so much right now. Now is not the right time to leave.”

Mark: Oh yes, and then of course there’s “the staff can’t live without me.”

Marshall: I love that one. Another one is, “I’m planning to leave next year,” which goes on and on….

Mark: And, “I have so many things yet to do.”

Marshall: Or, how about that successor? Are they ready yet?

Mark: No, they’re not quite ready. What about that Board? “What would happen if I disappeared?”

Marshall: Here’s the problem. I talk about in my book, Succession: Are You Ready? If things are great, it’s hard to leave. Everybody’s saying, “Don’t leave. We love you. Everything’s great.” When things are bad, it’s hard to leave. You think, “I can’t leave now. I’m going to look like a loser. The company needs me.”

When I coach people I tell them, “Look. Leave with some dignity. Know when it’s time to go. It’s good for you. It’s good for the company. Get over your ego! It may be better to have a new person in the position.

Mark: And how about growing? Take your game up to the next level and serve others in a different way.

Marshall: In my own life, I can identify with this. This is one thing I’m really proud of is, “Hey, I left at the top. Instead of making it about me, me, me, maybe I can help people, which is what led to our 100 Coaches program, where we’re just trying to help as many people as we can.

Mark: And that is the principle that carries your exit strategy. Thank you, Marshall!

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You’ve heard some the excuses we’ve heard from people and leaders who won’t leave their positions. We would love to hear some of the justifications you’ve heard! Please leave us your comments here on LinkedIn.

You can follow Mark on Linkedin and learn more about his work on his website