In the last 10 years the term “exit strategy” has become common and typically means how a private equity investor or founding entrepreneur plans to sell their investment in a company they created. Ideally, they leave with a considerable profit, but everyone is told well in advance that one way or the other they will be leaving at a defined point. The advantages are obvious in that from the start all of the other investors and owners can prepare for their leaving. The transfer of risk and reward is orderly and well thought out. All the players are prepared for the change.
As I’ve been driving on all sorts of roads the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that not everyone out here has a well-thought-out exit strategy. Yes, there are some. You can always tell these types by the way their car is packed with everything arranged and the luggage on the roof rack is secured with tie downs and expensive Thule carriers. You know the driver has mapped exactly their final destination and calculated the stops in between. These drivers signal miles ahead they are planning to get off at the upcoming exit. Once there, everyone has three minutes to do whatever they need and then get back on the road. Not everyone is as conscientious or organized. In fact, they are the exception to the rule.
I’ve noticed three other kinds of drivers.
First are those who exit with no warning at all. They just suddenly swerve off the road as if they had suddenly remembered leaving one of the children at home or someone is having an emergency. It’s hard to predict who they might be but if you see someone weaving in front of you because they are asking Siri where the exit is then you can try to avoid them.
Second, those who absolutely must pass one more car before they get off the highway. They will rush up behind you and stare at you as if you are intentionally blocking their way and then dodge out into the left lane, roar past you and, suddenly shoot to the right across the front of your car as they take the exit. They could not leave without making an impression.
Third, those who exit without reducing speed and nearly turn over on the frontage road or miss the stop sign. By the way, these exits are favorite places for the highway patrol as the exit speed limit drops suddenly. It’s almost like a fishing hole that never disappoints.
It’s not unlike many ministry leaders I have been visiting with over the last couple of years. Their exit strategies vary as much as the several above.
Some have everything in order, planned their trip well, and start signaling miles in advance. Everyone is on the same page. The departure is marked on the map for all to see and anticipate.
Some with no prior warning suddenly swerve off the road as if the idea of leaving came to them at that very moment and there was no waiting for the next opportunity to leave. No one is prepared – including the leader. No one has any time to adjust to the change.
Others seem compelled to do one more big thing before leaving even while putting themselves and everyone around them at risk. One more big project or legacy initiative they cannot resist even though it seems foolish and only an exercise in what Peter Drucker labeled “management ego.”
Finally are those who leave but cannot slow down. They cannot adapt to the changes in their lives or get a handle on how things are different now. They get off the highway but don’t understand how their life has changed so they keep barreling along missing all the signs. Do you know the app “iExit”? From anywhere you are on the trip you can plug in an exit number and it will tell you what services and sites are waiting for you. You can pick the one that has what you are looking for and not have to guess or make several exits before finding the right one. That’s what these leaders need, perhaps. They need to have a sense of what is waiting for them and not “roll over” or fail to see the signs of the change.
For sure, there are more and I’ll probably see them today out there on the highway. But, I have to exit now so we can get started on the next leg of the trip.