Jon Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, the Beatles, Ronald Reagan….
Very different people, alike in being compelling public performers.
Each mastered a transition that so many get wrong: they knew when it was time to go.
According to a report in the Guardian, “There was no one moment when Jon Stewart knew it was time for him to leave what he describes as ‘the most perfect job in the world’; no epiphany, no flashpoint.”
Stewart summarized his state of mind: “It’s not like I thought the show wasn’t working any more, or that I didn’t know how to do it. It was more, ‘Yup, it’s working. But I’m not getting the same satisfaction.” In sum, he recognized, “OK, I’m on the back side of it now.”
Certainly no one was asking Stewart to move on. He is at the top of his game. His program is successful by any measure.
His decision process is an inside game.
He sensed…he felt… it was time to go.
Like other skilled public performers, he would leave while his audience clamored for more.
By leaving in that way, he might be leaving money on the table. But he was seizing the opportunity to advance his evolving relationship with a national audience, sustained over the course of two decades.
Knowing When It’s Time to Go
Ronald Reagan brought many insights of acting to his leadership. He said that an advantage that actors have over politicians is that sense of knowing when it’s time to go. Reagan himself departed the public stage with aplomb.
By 1969 John Lennon sensed that it was time for the Beatles to depart the stage, each to go their own way. Though Paul McCartney took the public step of declaring his independence first (to the reported annoyance of Lennon), it’s said that Lennon drove the break-up. Lennon comprehended that the 1960’s comprised an era. As an indelible emblem of that era, the Beatles would go out with their time, go out on top.
So, too, Oprah Winfrey departed her eponymous television program on a high note. She not only left behind the apparent certainty of continued financial success and renewing fame and prestige. Winfrey also embraced new, risky business ventures. Amid the clamor that surrounds her, she is propelled by her own sense of timing and mission.
What About You?
What about you?
How do you evaluate when to depart from leadership, when others are accustomed to–or dependent upon–your continued service?
Is it time to depart from longstanding work or career positions?
Is it time to renegotiate business or personal relationships that no longer fit your evolving service?
What will ensure that you act on your insight? How will you face down doubt?
What can you learn from others’ navigation of such transitions? What can you learn from your own prior experiences in moving on–or lingering too long?
What is the basis of your sense of timing? What is your internal clock, that only you can discern and heed?
How do you know when it’s time to go?
Timing | Jon Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, the Beatles & Ronald Reagan