After being plagued by several injuries, NFL quarterback Andrew Luck shocked the world on Saturday when he announced that he’s retiring from the Indianapolis Colts at 29 years old. Sports fans booed him after the news leaked, and he wept during the official announcement.
However, Luck is far from the first major sports figure to experience a series of injuries. In fact, some would argue that it comes with the territory when you play contact sports for a living. Yet, at the height of his career, he felt like the “only way forward” was to remove himself from the game. Why? And why would seemingly loyal supporters suddenly turn on him?
Whether it’s a leader on a sports team or a leader in a boardroom, whenever a high-powered person abruptly steps down from a position of influence, there’s going to be mixed support, according to career experts.
On the one hand, people are disappointed that the talent is no longer going to help guide the team or business toward success. On the other hand, willingly stepping down from an organization “can actually be one of the greatest acts of leadership there is,” according to Steve Farber, an executive coach and management expert who authored “The Radical Leap,” which covers extreme leadership models.
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While some fans are showing clear signs of dismay, “The Colts are saying, ‘We’re a great team. With him gone, we’re still going to be a great team,” Farber said. “And in business, if I’ve been a great leader I will have cultivated an environment that will keep the company healthy without me.”
As a powerful part of a team, sometimes the greatest act of love is the act of self-removal when outside forces interfere with your ability to do the job effectively, Farber said.
In Luck’s case, the physical pain and mental toll associated with the game was too much to endure. His injuries took his “joy” out of the game, he said in an impromptu news conference over the weekend.
“I’ve been stuck in this process, haven’t been able to live the life I want to live. After 2016, I played in pain and was unable to practice, I said I wouldn’t go through that again,” Luck said.
Similarly, EagleBank’s former CEO Ron Paul retired abruptly earlier this year because health developments would “substantially interfere with his ability to perform his duties and obligations to the company and the bank.” And when Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan stepped down in March, he said it was because “there’s just been too much focus on me, and it’s impacting our ability to move forward.”
There’s a long list of other reasons bigwigs trade in their seat at the table or on the field. When they aren’t forced out, trying to avoid scandal or wanting to accept a better offer elsewhere, they could simply want to throw in the towel after years of demanding work.
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Also, if the company began as an entrepreneurial venture, a founder may step down after the business grows beyond his or her capability to effectively manage it.
“Sometimes leaders became a leader initially because there was this excitement around building something from scratch, getting the funding, creating the product or service,” Farber said. “Then when (the business) is successful they are no longer engaged in the way they once were, so they’ll leave an established company to head another new venture or a startup.”
Sometimes, it’s not so clear why a workplace leader is exiting suddenly.
Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne announced he was leaving the job last week citing his involvement in “certain government matters.” The company statement did not elaborate on details of the government matters Byrne referenced.
Still, leaders in all sectors, from sports to business, will have to contend with workforce or industry challenges, unforeseeable obstacles, occasional frustration and drudgery – it comes with the territory. Still, there are telltale signs that things are becoming too much to handle and its time to step away.
“The question they have to ask is, ‘Is it worth it for me as an individual to endure that amount of suffering in order to make something great happen,'” Farber said. “If the answer is yes, they’ll stay.” But when the dial shifts toward the other direction, “people who are really self-aware will make decisions taking all that into account.”
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown.