As a trained Emergency Medical Technician, he was accustomed to stopping at accidents when he could help. So when he saw the car plowed into the guardrail he pulled over even though others had already done the same.

“Who was in that car?”

“I was.”

“Want to explain to me why you are not lying on the ground with someone stabilizing your neck?”

“I’m a doctor. I suggested the same thing.” Piped in a bystander.

“I’m alright.”

“Well, you might be alright. You probably are alright. But since your head hit that window with enough force to cause that damage, there is a small chance that you cracked a bone in your neck and that you could go from being alright to being not right at all in an instant.”

“I don’t want any help.”

He left.

Just like that. Walked away. Never looked back. No idea what happened next.


Because you can’t help everyone. You can’t fix every problem. Don’t waste your time on problems or people you can’t help, or on people that don’t want your help, or on problems or people on which others can make a greater impact than you can.

In your organization, this is true strategically, organizationally, and operationally.


Know when to walk away strategically

Michael Porter taught us that strategy is choosing what not to do. My partner Harry Kangis takes this one step further suggesting that choosing not to do something that’s a bad idea is easy. The real choice is choosing not to do something that’s a good idea – for someone else.

You can’t choose to focus on something unless you also choose to focus away from something else. But people compromise. They want to “keep their hands in the game”, their options open. Certainly makes sense sometimes. But if you cannot see your way to a sustainable competititve advantage in an area, walk away like Omar Hussain did at Imprivata.

What’s the difference between a generalist and a specialist? A generalist knows less and less about more and more until eventually she knows nothing about everything. A specialist knows more and more until eventually she knows everything about nothing. Anything taken to its logical extreme is a problem. You can’t survive without water. But you drown with too much water. Don’t go to the extreme. But do become enough of a specialist to give yourself (and your organization) a sustainable competitive advantage.


Know when to walk away organizationally

It’s so tempting to try to help struggling people. It’s a really nice idea – when it’s worth it. The #1 thing experienced leaders at CEO Connection’s CEO Boot Camps say they regret is not moving fast enough on people. They didn’t know when to walk away. Not suggesting that someone shouldn’t help the struggling people. Sometimes that someone is somebody else. Sometimes that someone is in a different organization.

Gallup’s strengths model is applicable: talent + knowledge + skills = strengths. If the person is lacking skills, give them opportunities to practice. If the person is lacking knowledge, teach them. If the person does not have the talent for the job they need to do, walk away. Your job is not to ensure employment for everyone. Do what you can to ensure their employability. Then help them find the best place for them either within your organization or somewhere else.


Know when to walk away operationally

It’s often tempting to try to fix things yourselves. But sometimes (many times) others can do a better job than you can. Outsourcing aspects of your operation is not a sign of weakness. It’s about focus – investing your time and effort to get better at the most important aspects of your operation and walking away from the rest. This works at an organizational level and a personal level. One is outsourcing. The other is delegating.

Sometimes you delegate. Sometimes you delay. Sometimes you say not now, not ever. All those are forms of walking away.

I’ve made my point. Now, I’m walking away.