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What You Can Learn From the Leaders Leaving Tesla, Instagram, and Snap

Executives from some of the country’s biggest companies have jumped ship–or been given the heave-ho. Take note of the lessons their exits teach us.

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BY Ilya Pozin - 18 Oct 2018

What You Can Learn From the Leaders Leaving Tesla, Instagram, and Snap

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Social oversharing. Data privacy problems. Tussles with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Certainly, 2018 has seen its share of corporate faux pas. And plenty of powerful executives aren't sticking around to pick up the pieces. In fact, in the past 12 months, we've seen seven top players leave Facebook, more than a dozen vamoose from Tesla, and three chiefs take off from J.C. Penney.

To be sure, executives leave for different reasons. Some are hustled out without so much as a quick good bye, while others are borne away on a carpet of goodwill. However, every resignation is a chance for other business leaders to take note of what happened and prepare themselves for the future.

During an interview with Business Insider, three ex-Googlers explained their reasons for cutting ties with a company that so many others wish they could put on their resumes. Essentially, each departure was a thoughtfully made decision to move beyond the Google name and strike out on new adventures, risk be darned. Here the parting of ways was by choice, but even when it's not, it can provide a valuable lesson for other executives.

Here's what we can learn from some of the leaders who have chosen to--or been forced to--move on this year.

1. Recognize when something's gotta give.

You can't serve many masters at 100 percent. Sometimes, life gets in the way of fulfilling the role of CEO, CFO, or other C-suite member. It's a tough job, after all. Indra Nooyi, CEO and chairman of PepsiCo, reminisced about the sacrifices it takes in her public resignation letter.

Although she grew the company, Nooyi admits to taking time from her family to make it happen. And that's a regret she lives with now. When family needs pull hard in one direction, it can sometimes make sense to step down and let someone else serve.

2. Know when to write the next chapter.

Consider life as a book. Eventually, one chapter ends, and another begins. As Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Instagram's co-founders, said when they announced their resignation from the Facebook-owned giant, they're ready to "explore our curiosity and creativity again."

It's not likely that executives will stay with one company forever. Many, like Systrom and Krieger, will shoot for the stars elsewhere. Whether they work for other organizations or build fresh, disruptive entities, they're less apt to remain complacent if they're truly go-getters.

3. Remember you aren't guaranteed a lifetime stay in the C-suite.

John Flannery, the former CEO of General Electric, discovered the hard way that the C-suite can be a bit of a trampoline. Hit the mat the wrong way, and you might just bounce off the whole apparatus. And bounced he was, with GE pushing him out the door after about a year.

Once upon a time, many heads of companies held on to their roles with an iron grip. Now, they no longer can depend upon a legacy to protect them from removal. Every executive needs to go into a position with this understanding. It's simply a risk of taking a leadership job--and a reason to stay sharp.

4. Keep your checks and balances in place.

Everyone knows that Elon Musk has been a busy entrepreneur. He was not only Tesla's founding CEO but also chairman of the board. When the company started out, the dual role made sense. But now it's become a liability, especially in light of the combined $40 million fine Musk and Tesla had to pay to the SEC to settle charges of fraud stemming from Musk's personal tweets.

As part of the SEC settlement agreement, Musk is leaving his chairmanship status behind. By accepting removal from the board of directors, he opens the door for independent, objective thinking and decisions on the part of board members.

5. Realize you might belong in a different future.

When your company and personal missions aren't heading in the same direction, the smartest move can be to step out of one stream and into the next. It's a challenging decision, to be sure, not to mention one that can raise questions. However, you certainly won't be alone in course correcting.

In the past year, Snap Inc. experienced an exodus of nine high-level executives, each of whom no longer fit the company's trajectory. Perhaps the most surprising departure was that of Imran Khan, the company's chief strategy officer, who--despite his impressive CV--wasn't the one to pull the company from its market nosedive. The constant resignations month after month stirred ripples, but not all unpleasant ones; financial analysts predict that the move will be good for shareholders.

If you're a business leader, keep this in mind: Do what's right today, and lead with integrity. Your next step might be into the arms of a different corporation or into the lead role at a startup. Life's a crazy thing, and you have to be ready for change.

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