Exit Strategies

Exit Strategies

In writing my last book, I found this recurring theme about remarkable women leaders: Most, if not all, of them that I interviewed had at some point left jobs they had either outgrown or were not good fits for from the start.

When asked, these powerful women had equally powerful insights about the best and worst decisions they had made in their careers:

My own career echoed these lessons. Seeking a more entrepreneurial experience, I left RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, after a great run, to join a startup. On paper the entrepreneurial opportunity looked perfect. But in reality, it was a bad fit.

About six months in, my inner voice said, “You’re not liking this…. But my retort was…Of course this is where you belong! This job is exactly what you said you wanted!”

This self-talk went back and forth in my head for months. But I took no action.

Like Heidi Miller, I let the limitations of the firm’s leadership determine how much I could get done. Day after day, I kept my nose to the grindstone, thinking things would improve. They didn’t. In fact the circumstances worsened.

I resigned, but not without personal consequences. I suffered a severe case of burnout that took me a significant period of time from which to recover. Suffice it to say, I learned to trust my instincts and to never make that mistake again!

Loyalty And Commitment

So, why is leaving so difficult in the first place? I am no psychologist but I can tell you what I think happens for people like us. Leaving feels like failure. It’s admitting that the issues cannot be fixed or that we have made a bad career choice in the first place.

There’s also the matter of loyalty and commitment. If I tell somebody that I am going to do something, I do it. That’s the way I was raised. If you give your word you have to keep it. And, so, with that mindset, we spend a lot of time and effort trying to make a go of situations that are telling us in no uncertain terms to walk away.

All of this conspires to paralyze us and keep us in what can sometimes be an untenable situation. It probably has a great deal to do with the Gallup statistic that says that less than half of us (by our own admission) get to do what we do best every day. That means a lot of us are just trudging through each day and trying to make it work for us.

So, take note of your organization and give it an honest assessment. Are there a significant number of women in leadership roles? Any? Are you growing? Is there a future for you there?

If not, then it might be time to start looking for a better fit for your talents and aspirations.

Believe in yourself and go find it.


  • Go while the going is good. The longer you allow yourself to be encased in an environment that doesn’t “feed” your professional sense of self, the more in danger you are of damaging your self-esteem.
  • As you go, carefully review and consider the commitment you made when you accepted a job. Did you pledge to stay for a year? Did you promise two weeks’ notice before leaving? Try to keep your word. While personal growth is important, it is imperative to act like the professional adult you are.
  • Confront the personal fears that make you hang on. Consider seeking out a good counselor to help you identify the root causes of your fears to move on. Your fears may be deeply rooted in unhealed childhood drama. Know this: Self-knowledge is power.
  • If women are not advancing where you are, leave and find a company where women are rising.
  • Trust your instincts. Your “inner self” knows you well.
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