Leaders Are Willing To Abandon

Growing up we’re often taught that winners never quit. They stay the course. They’re unwilling to abandon ship.

The older I get, the more I realize the damage this lie has brought into the lives of so many people. And organizations.

The truth is, leaders need to be willing to abandon ship, when appropriate.

Sinking Ship

Image by M. Glasgow

Staying on a sinking ship is asinine. It frequently spells certain doom.

That’s why, once the ship has been cleared, the captain should abandon ship.

And that’s why, as a leader, you must be willing to abandon ship in certain situations.

When To Abandon Ship

Leaders need to be cognizant of when it’s appropriate to abandon a plan. A practice. Or a way of thinking.

When are those times?


  • A plan is leading your organization towards failure: Keep a keen eye on the direction the company is heading. Notice the small shifts. Lack of commitment from employees, disgruntled customers, poor sales. If a poor plan has caused the issues, be ready to abandon the plan and change course.
  • You’re asked to be unethical: Many people overlook the importance of living an ethical life in business. Sadly, this has caused the failure of many companies and people. Often ending in bankruptcy, the dissolution of a company, or the breakup of a marriage. When you’re faced with the choice of whether or not to go against your principles, you must choose your principles. It’s time to abandon ship if they push you otherwise.
  • You’re no longer effective: It’s easy to fall into the mindset that you NEED to stay in your position as a leader. Yet this has ruined many companies. When a leader stays too long in a position, it drags the company down. Great leaders know when it’s time to leave.

While you may feel there’s plenty of reasons to stay in your current position, there’s also plenty of reasons to abandon it. Decide whether or not that’s the case for your situation.

If it is, be ready to move on.

Question: Have you ever had to abandon a plan, a practice, or a way of thinking? How did the decision improve your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • DS

    Every day I’m challenged to leave various thought processes behind.  Everyday I’m challenged to sacrifice self and serve others.  That’s not the way I always thought.  I believe it allows others to trust my motives, and that it allows me to avoid getting caught up in negativity.

    • Good thoughts DS. I like how you’ve seen it make others trust you and your motives. 

  • I agree, but there’s also a fine line between abandoning ship and giving up.  There are many days I question whether I should keep blogging and writing books.  Sometimes it feels like a long, impossible journey to see any ROI.  But they would be quitting, because my progress and others’ reactions have already shown me that it’s not a failure.  Another question could be: how long should someone continue with something that does not bring desired results before abandoning ship and setting sail on another one?

    • You’re right Dan, there is a fine line between the two. I think we have to examine ourselves and discover the requirements to abandon ship. I think when it no longer aligns with our vision and purpose, it’s probably time to get out of the position.

      As for your question, I think Seth Godin made a great point in his Startup School. Some things need to have a begin and end date. If results aren’t seen by the end date, you end on the predetermined time.

      • Of course, I love what I’m doing, too, so I won’t be abandoning ship any time soon.  

  • Good thoughts Joseph – I’ve seen leaders hold onto an initiative too long or stay at an organization well beyond their effectiveness.

    • Thanks Michael. Sadly, it happens much too frequently and we see organizations suffer because of our unwillingness to let go. 

  • I think it’s important to know when to abandon a sinking ship, and also to know when to bring others along with you or let those people go. It’s hard to know sometimes when it’s time to go a different direction…good thoughts Joe.

    • Great thoughts Tessa. How do you decide when it’s time to bring people aboard, get others off, or let the ship sink?

  • Leading in a team environment with other leaders requires a lot of give and take.  Yes, there is one primary leader, but there have been times when I’ve had to relent on my point of view in favor of the whole.  Thankfully, I’m on a team I can trust.  So I know that when I have to abandon my idea, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    • That’s awesome Jon. Building up the trust to be able to abandon our ideas takes time and effort. 

  • I think a person can consider leaving a job position or what they are leading if they are no longer in areas of strengths, life purpose, or passions. They might be able to do a good job but would not be as effective if they found a different position that allowed them to focus more on the above three areas. Great post Joe. 

    • Exactly Dan. It’s all about our effectiveness and where we’re heading. If we can see it’s not lining up with our strengths, vision, etc we need to get out of the way. For our sake and the sake of the organization.

  • For 12 years I thought I was on the right ship. I had a great business and I was living the “dream” the ship started sinking and it took me a while but I abandoned ship. I’m glad I did 🙂

    • I’m glad you’ve abandoned the old ship as well. You’ve been experiencing great success and I’m sure it feels great. Keep doing what you love!

  • Knowing when to abandon ship–or discard an idea or favored pet project–is as important as it is to start the voyage in the first place. It’s also important to know when to stay at a company or move to a new opportunity, to invest in a relationship, etc. Well said, Joe.

    • Exactly Skip. How do you decide when it’s time to move on?

      • It depends on what you are moving on from. Certainly if something conflicts with your values, you know that you need to move on. Or it may be a sense in your soul. But there is no “magic” answer, which is where the great discernment is needed.

  • Joe, in my beginning of my leadership career I thought I had to do it all, micro-manage, in order to get results and achieve productivity levels. The problem was that I didn’t know it all so tasks and projects fell through the cracks because I didn’t engage the people that had the knowledge and expertise. I am now the first to admit I don’t have the answers, I am not the expert on one thing or another, and I have empowered the people that have the knowledge and expertise. This has achieved employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and decreased my level of stress. 

    • Wow, that’s great Juan! It’s funny how when we move aside and abandon the tasks that aren’t suited to our skill set things begin to fall into place.

  • There is no value in moving forward once you figure out you are on the wrong course…even in terms of something little like reading a book. I love to finish things – but have learned to let myself off the hook after 100 page if I’m not getting anything from it. Totally agree with what you have laid out – once something isn’t effective anymore, it is time to scrap it and move on!

    • You brought up one of the hardest things for me to do, put down a book when you’re not getting anything from it. I feel like I have to trudge through to the end. Thanks for bringing up another area that needs improving!