This past weekend, former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke announced he would drop out of the 2020 presidential race. In a post on Medium.com, he declared, "Though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully. My service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee."
Though O’Rourke was an impassioned candidate — drawing in crowds and creating headlines — things behind the scenes were shaky. The campaign claims it was struggling with its finances for months, having to make some hard decisions. Many candidates prior have gone deeply into debt while eagerly running for president.
If O’Rourke wanted to continue with his campaign, then on to the election, he could have.
So why quit?
For any leader setting out to pursue someting unfathomable, having to resign before you’ve even reached the finish line is truly humbling. It's one thing to have to end a mission when few are aware. But doing so before a large audience can make the stakes of throwing in the towel that much more challenging.
When directing a team towards a specific end-goal, quitting is something you never anticipate you'll do. In fact, for many ambitious leaders, it’s something you never imagine you will do. But sometimes, it's something you need to do. While these can present some of our more testing moments, knowing when to stop can be just as important as knowing when to say "go."
There are four questions to ask yourself to determine if and when it's time to call it quits:
1. Did You Jump the Gun? In O’Rourke’s case, many of his critics voiced that, when he first put in his name in contention for office, his policies and key staffers weren’t solidified timely. If you impulsively pursue a vision without organizing your plan, it can make the process more difficult for you and your team. Ultimately, you'll hurt the vision in the long run.
2. Are You Listening to Advisers and Mentors in Your Own Life? An adviser had recently directed O’Rourke that the campaign’s current financial situation would call for some difficult decisions. Days later, O’Rourke announced his decision to step out of the race. When wise figures in our lives ask us to reevaluate a choice, it's time to listen up.
3. Is Your Vision in the Best Interests of the Overall Goal? As O’Rourke clarified in his Medium.com post , "Acknowledging this now is in the best interests of those in the campaign; it is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee, and it is in the best interests of the country." Just because it’s time to step aside from one vision doesn’t mean your work no longer contributes to the overall goal.
4. Can You Still Genuinely Contribute to the Vision? The hardest part of stepping away from a goal is stepping away from a contribution you had desired to make. In O’Rourke’s case, he emphasized that he will do "whatever I can for this country, no longer as a candidate, but with my fellow Americans."
Just because you call it quits, doesn’t mean the ultimate vision won’t come to pass.
Stepping away from a dream you had deeply invested in may be one of the more challenging decisions you'll ever have to make. However, quitting something does not make a leader a quitter. Rather, this process can make a leader wiser, sharper, and more productive. Every opportunity, even ones you need to step away from, are shaping you to lead more effectively in the future.
Dr. Kent Ingle serves as the President of Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and is the author of "Framework Leadership." A champion of innovative educational design, Ingle is the president of one of the fastest growing private universities in the nation. As president, Ingle founded the American Center for Political Leadership at the university and is also a founding member of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration. Before becoming Southeastern’s president in 2011, Ingle held leadership positions in higher education and the nonprofit sector in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Ingle is the author of several leadership books and the creator of the Framework Leadership podcast. He currently serves on the board of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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