Insight #25

Leaders Have an Exit Strategy


It’s easy to start a project, program, or task but the real question is how do you finish it?  As a leader, how do you know when it’s time to move on to the next thing, next idea, or next project?  You know because you have planned your exit even before you start a new project.  By creating an exit strategy you are deciding exactly how and when things will end.  We all know that nothing happens by chance; the only way a leader can ensure maximum success is to conduct thorough and deliberate planning.  Developing an exit strategy implies that you have done all of the thinking, planning, and strategizing necessary to enable you to see the end of the journey. 

What is an exit strategy?  An exit strategy is your plan for getting out of something that you have decided to get into or participate in.  An exit strategy implies that you have accomplished your mission; you have finished the race and you have done what you said you would do.  You have identified how the story ends and…of course, the story should end in your favor, meaning favorably to you and your objectives – with you ultimately coming out on top.

By establishing your exit strategy up front you have developed exactly how you will exit.  Your exit strategy must be just as well defined and well planned as everything else.  An exit strategy can be developed and implemented relatively quickly.  You begin by planning your project with the end in mind and then you plan back to the very beginning of the project.  Planning is only the first step though, now, you must execute relentlessly. 

How do you ensure that you accomplish all of your objectives and goals?  First, you must know what they are. Second, you must do something every day to move towards accomplishing your goals. Third, you must never quit until you accomplish your goals.  Once you have succeeded at accomplishing your objectives, you will have to either rewrite your goals or move on to something else. 

When you begin a task, ask yourself, “How does this end?”  General David H. Petraeus famously made this phrase when he asked this very simple question of the leaders and staff involved with planning the surge of forces during the war in Iraq.  You should adopt this question because it is very important to be aware of the endgame before you start a new project.
Five ways that an exit strategy will help you:

  1. An exit strategy gives you the ability to track your progress against an objective and as you get closer to your goal, your momentum propels you forward to completion;
  2. An exit strategy gives you a clear target for your team to shoot for;
  3. An exit strategy will help you to understand when you should fold and go home or hold and keep fighting;
  4. An exit strategy will help you to manage your resources better over the long-term;
  5. An exit strategy will help you to be better prepared.


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