Quitting Is for Winners: Why Your Company Should Celebrate Quitters and Encourage Strategically-driven Defection


Last weekend, I almost fainted on the subway from hypothermia.

I was set to run a 10K race in Brooklyn with a few girlfriends. I didn't quite do it. But I did enough.

Let me share my lesson and trust you'll read on: sometimes walking away is winning. Really. Withdrawing, folding your hand, quitting -- whatever you want to call it, it can be the path to victory and fulfillment. And not just on the race course, but at the office.

Our corporate cultures rarely take kindly to quitters, let alone celebrate them. And while counterintuitive at first blush, the competency of quitting is key to managing with agility. We absolutely need more quitters -- and cultures of quitting -- to best run our businesses.

"It's never too late to quit the race. The keys are recognizing the signs early and being ready to take strategically-driven action."

Knowing when to quit takes a unique blend of courage, vulnerability, intuition and tact -- but it's worth the investment.

Get Ready for the "Fun Run"
Some would consider an early morning race downgrade, due to "extremely high winds and other adverse weather conditions," a strong incentive to stay in bed. But the organizers offered a "fun run" as consolation, and we considered it a challenge.

For better or worse, we slay.

Holly Rodillo, Suzanne Zulauf, Becky Ericson and Kristina Kozen-Lim.

What followed were a series of left turns that brought me (painfully) back to center.

A 90-minute commute and one (mostly) harmless train mix-up later, we emerged at the end of the line only to be greeted by a fierce windstorm. For once, the "gusts of up to 60mph" guidance was on point.

After briefly discussing the merits of trash bag fashion at a nearby drug store (didn't Bradley Cooper wear one in Silver Linings Playbook?), we banded together for a downhill trudge that can only be described as punishment with a side of New York City street grit blown in the eye.

It should have come as no surprise to find the "fun run" had more staff and medical personnel than racers. Nonetheless, we were surprised.

Inaugural "Ladies First!" race t-shirts in hand, we inquired about our prize. The organizer asked, "You really want them?"

We did. More than anything we wanted those participation medals -- those bright, shiny beacons of achievement. "They're yours," he quickly conceded, intimidated by our windblown faces and general ferocity. "Just grab them when you leave. But, watch out, there's water on the course."

Water on the course?

In Defense of Wet Socks
Huddled together, we rounded the corner to the starting line. It was only then we fully appreciated the massive swells in the bay, the whitecaps and the WIND... It was unrelenting.

I set off at record pace, for nearly five whole minutes. The first few sea gusts blasting my torso like a power washer didn't faze me. But then came the last straw that ended my journey.

My sock got wet.

In that moment, I experienced an epiphany: I have nothing to prove. As much as I love achieving, following through and team camaraderie, I'm facing frostbite, hypothermia or worse. I've loved so much this ill-fated adventure, but home is calling me. And I am ready to go there now -- Forrest Gump style.

Sprinting back to the starting line was unrelenting physical torment. I felt weak and lightheaded. I couldn't even enjoy the stunning view -- the Statue of Liberty, the Freedom Tower and Lower Manhattan.


A couple hours later I was home. My subway shivers gone. No harm done -- a little shaken, but mostly inspired.

Why We Business Leaders Should Encourage Great Quitters
We're taught not to consider sunk costs. But what about your heart? What about all the blood, sweat and tears it took to build a once great corporate program?

There's ego, esteem and reputation equity woven in the fabric of that customer experience initiative. You're anything but objective. How can you just walk away?

While it can be a challenge, the rewards for you and your organization are clear: enhanced thrive factor, increased profitability and greater potential for big-picture success.

However, we're often conditioned to maintain and sustain in Corporate America. We rarely select to break from the crowd. The move to abandon is more often met with a reputation ding rather than a shiny medal.

"Do you have the resilience to stop doing what no longer serves you? Thank goodness I did or I might be coming to you from the emergency room."

It takes real courage to quit the race, and keen instinct to know when to call it -- but that's exactly what we should encourage in our corporate cultures.

I'm talking about managing your slice of the sphere with the same diligence you bring to managing your hypothermia risk. Sometimes that involves blowing a whistle.

And every once in a while you'll be blowing the whistle on yourself.

Do you have the resilience to stop doing what no longer serves you? Thank goodness I did or I might be coming to you from the emergency room.

We're taught to honor our health. At the same time we're practically raised on the merits of consumerism (and we carry the debt to prove it).

Why then is our management analogy of choice is "spend the company's money like your own?" Sure, we all nod in agreement, but many of us manage our money terribly. Hardly a recipe for success with ingredients like resource inefficiency, time loss and squandered emotional capital in the mix.

Start Your Training Plan to Quit
So why don't we start leading more with our heart, passion and gut instinct? Let's start managing our programs, budgets and strategic plans with the same spirit we bring to managing our health.

As individuals, leaders and organizations, we have all the knowledge, intuition and resilience to spot those wet socks a mile away -- and we have the ability to take action. It's never too late to quit the race. The keys are recognizing the signs early and being ready to take strategically-driven action.

Start your training today. Start exploring those emotions you've been sweeping under the rug and think about the bold moves and choices ahead of you. Take risks. Do your sprints, intervals and long runs.

Get ready to celebrate walking away from something. And when you do it, give yourself a Breakfast Club fist pump in the parking lot that would make Judd Nelson proud.