5 Signs That You Should Step Down From Your Leadership Position

People don't learn when to step down


3 months ago|4 min read


Some years ago, I flew to Chicago and resigned from a leadership position with an international men’s organization. It was a shock to many of my peers with the non-profit. Generally, people were either pushed out or disappeared, resigning through inactivity. I didn’t see myself doing that.

What I noticed was that the leadership of the group were men who had worked their way up within the institution before being certified to lead. We were told, “You’ll know when it’s your time to step up. You’ll know when you’re ready.”

However, no one discussed knowing when it was your time to step down from leadership leaving the group in the awkward position of pushing people out who were no longer performing well or waiting for them to disappear.

After all, when you’re in a leadership position, it can become easy to get stuck or stale and accept that behavior as normal. However, continuing to be that way can lead to many negative outcomes for you, your team, and your firm. That’s why knowing when to step down from leadership and resigning is an important “Spidey sense” to have—and the sooner you figure out the signs and decide it’s time to move on, the better off you’ll be.

Here are a few of the top warning signs that might indicate that it’s time to step down and move on.

When you are no longer a good fit

If you are in a senior leadership position and realize you no longer are the right fit or if things have changed and it is not working out, it is your responsibility to resign or, at a minimum, move on to another organization. Negotiate your exit if it was not part of your original package.


When you don’t have the time

A person’s priorities are often in flux, and their ability to do a job well is no exception. When your personal and professional priorities collide, sometimes you need to step down from an executive or leadership position. For example, perhaps your increased responsibilities at work have made it hard for you to make time for your children. Perhaps, your caregiving responsibilities are not being adequately met by you or the person you’ve hired to care for an ill or elderly parent. These can be signs that you’re doing too much and need to step down from your leadership role.


When your health issues prevent you from being effective

It’s a tough pill to swallow for many, but when your health issues prevent you from being effective at your job and significantly impacts your life outside of work, it may be time to step down. Check in with yourself and your doctor and find out if you are working yourself into an earlier grave. If you are, then maybe it’s time to step down.


When you have different goals

If you’re unhappy, frustrated, and unfulfilled, it’s time to reassess your leadership goals. If you want something different for yourself professionally or personally and feel like you can no longer accomplish those things in your current position, it may be time to resign. Resigning isn’t always easy or straightforward—you want to make sure your professional reputation will remain intact and that you leave with a solid transition plan.

When you need more personal fulfillment

Day in and day out, you might find yourself doing similar tasks—the same thing over and over again. The monotony of your work can cause you to lose your feeling of fulfillment. This situation happens more often than you think. According to a survey by Franklin Covey, half of Americans are unfulfilled at work.

That’s what happened to me when I decided to step down. I realized that most of the time, I felt unhappy leading. For a while, I didn’t know how to deal with those feelings. I would do what I always did—put in more effort, try harder and hope for the best.

But nothing changed for me. After almost 2 years, I decided to step down

If you feel like that is happening to you, it’s important to change your circumstances internally or move on. In my case, that involved creating an emeritus role where I would support the leaders and aspiring leaders, instead of actually leading. Perhaps there is a role that you can pioneer that will support those who aspire to your role to be mentored, coached, and/or advised. Perhaps you need to make a complete break.

Whatever you decide, you know you cannot remain doing what you have been doing. Your friends and former colleagues who care will surface and ask you what happened because your decision will surprise them. Some will want to know so they can gossip.

Keep your answers simple. After all, you may decide to return to the fray sometime in the future and won’t want the details of your decision to adversely affect that decision.

For many of you, the hardest part of the decision will be dealing with the idea that stepping down, resigning, or quitting is evidence of failure. It isn’t. You are putting yourself first, not your job or career. It’s what should have been going on all along.


Ⓒ The Big Game Hunter, Inc., Asheville, NC 2022 


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2300 episodes. He also hosts Job Search TV on YouTube, Amazon and Roku, as well as on BingeNetworks.tv for Apple TV and 90+ smart sets.

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Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter, (he/him/his), has helped companies hire talent and people find work. More than 40 years of recruiting experience assisting individuals to improve their career as an executive recruiter. Now, a career coach, leadership coach, and executive coach. I coach over Zoom... read more



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