No, that title is not intended to suggest that this is another story of “great resignation”. Instead, the question can be a useful provocation to help people step back from their work and see it with fresh eyes. If you were your boss, would you have a clearer assessment of the work you are doing? Being able to accurately assess your work is especially important in this age of constant disruption, as simply maintaining the status quo is a surefire strategy for falling behind.
It’s neither easy nor comfortable to distance yourself from the work you’re doing and reflect on how you could do it differently. After all, as humans, we crave a degree of certainty in our lives, especially these days, when it feels like a terrifying dark cloud hovering overhead. Another reason it’s hard for us to become overinvested in the people we’ve hired and the initiatives or strategies we’ve put in place. We by nature like to think we have good judgment, and so we look for clues that strengthen the intelligence of our choices rather than constantly questioning them.
And so, every now and then, you need to answer a disturbing question: is it time to fire yourself?
This idea became a reality when I interview Bracken Darrell, CEO of Logitech International, a manufacturer of computer peripherals with headquarters in Switzerland and the United States. During that conversation, he shared with me the story of how, during about five years at the company, one Sunday night, he asked himself, “Can I be the right person for the next five years?”
On paper, he certainly is, he told me, because all his changes at the company have raised the stock price by about 500%. “On the other hand, I was involved in every HR and strategic decision,” he said. “My disadvantage is that I know too much and I have been too involved in everything we are doing. I just thought to myself that I might finish. “So he decided that night that he was going to shoot himself, but he was going to sleep with that decision.
The bottom line is that he didn’t shoot himself, but he woke up the next morning with a clear sense of what he needed to do: “I had to recover on my own, but I didn’t have the sacred cow. It was exciting and fun, and I started changing things that I set out to do. Luckily, I didn’t have to change things radically, but I did feel new again.” The stock price is now 11 times higher what it was when Darrell took over.
Darrell isn’t the only executive intent on removing themselves from the job they’ve worked so hard to achieve. Former Intel CEO Andy Grove wrote in his 1996 book, Only the paranoid survive, a time when the company’s memory chip business was being hampered by Japanese competitors in the 1980s. Grove asked Gordon Moore, Intel’s co-founder, “What if we were fired and unionized? The board brings in a new CEO, what will he do?” (Perhaps it’s a sign that Grove thinks the new CEO will be male.)
Moore responded by saying that a new CEO would take Intel out of the memory chip business. “Why shouldn’t you and I walk out the door, turn around and do it ourselves?” Grove replied. And that’s what they did. They moved Intel from memory chips to microprocessors, a key pivot to the company’s decades of prosperity.
While it’s easy to dismiss the question of whether you should fire yourself as sloppy and impractical, consider that it’s part of an essential leadership skill in planning. the script. The business world was relatively stable for nearly a dozen years before the advent of COVID, and so the C-suite board and leadership team were able to narrow down the different hypothetical scenarios they had to consider. in risk management meetings. Understandably, not many companies have researched questions like, what if people started working from home? Or what does deactivation in Russia mean?
While it’s easy to dismiss the question of whether you should fire yourself as sloppy and impractical, consider that it’s part of an essential leadership skill in planning. the script.
But we are now completely living in the era of VUCA, a famous acronym coined by the US Army War College that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. And so, what’s next? Cyber attack? A new flashpoint in the climate crisis? Another deadly virus?
John Donovan, former CEO of AT&T Communications who sits on multiple boards, Told me that an important part of scenario planning is having the discipline to detach yourself from the work you’re doing and to see it through the eyes of someone new.
“You basically have to fire yourself and everyone every year, and then re-prepared them for what’s needed for the next challenge,” he said in our interview. “Companies are constantly stalled. Most of the time, it’s because something has changed, and the book that got them there is not the book needed to move on.”
If the prospect of firing yourself seems too daunting to contemplate, there is another way to achieve the same result. If you’re competitive—and you should if you’re in a senior role—just think about who will follow in your footsteps. What steps can they take, because they’re not invested in everything you’ve done, that would make you think, why didn’t I do that?