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What to Consider Before You Step Down

Sometimes there's just nothing more for you to do. Here's how to handle it.
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When Steve Ballmer stepped down from Microsoft, investors sent the company's stock soaring.

Despite having tripled the company's annual revenue during his 14-year tenure, Microsoft, in the eyes of the tech world at least, was a lumbering giant. Sure, its market share was impressive, but in the face of new competition many felt it was susceptible to a decline.

This kind of reception to an executive's exit isn't uncommon, of course. Often entrepreneurs launch a business and view it as their life's work, only to watch the business, after some initial success, stagnate or fail due to a loss of focus or apathy. In the case of Ballmer, perhaps he stayed too long. 

When drafting a business plan and guiding the growth of your business, you should always know when to step down. At what point will the business outgrow you?  And when will you outgrow its goals? Here, I've outlined some things to consider before the next step.

Check in with yourself.   

Oftentimes, we get so caught up in the day-to-day running of our business that we fail to take a look at ourselves. In addition to reviewing subordinates, you must, or have others, review yourself. Are you still leading the company in the direction that it should be going? Are you capable of taking it to the next level? If the business' growth has slowed, is it because of factors external to your office or do the answers pertain to your management?

Know your limits.  

All of us have them. You may have been the perfect fit to take the business from Point A to Point B. But your skill set may not be sufficient to get to Point C--and that's OK. It's better to acknowledge your limits and address them than play dumb and let your business decline.

Seek outside perspectives.

Always seek the advice of those who have grown a business from Point A to Point B, and again from Point B to Point C. Speak openly about your concerns, learn what they did, and solicit advice. They may offer a fresh point of view that you may not have considered.

Hire Your Replacement

There's a wealth of talent who specialize in taking businesses from point B to point C.  Even if you do not retain that ability, someone should. Seek out and hire your replacement when you have taken a company as far as you can. In the long run, if you make the right hire, you and your business will thrive.

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Sep 3, 2013

MATTHEW SWYERS | Columnist | Founder, The Trademark Company

Matthew Swyers is the founder of The Trademark Company, a Web-based law firm specializing in protecting the trademark rights of small to medium-size businesses. The company is ranked No. 138 on the 2011 Inc. 500.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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