Time to Step Aside

Leaders in every organization must grapple with their eventual departure. And common to most organizations are the challenges presented when top leaders just aren’t ready to step aside, even when they know the next generation of leadership is eager to take the reins.

“I want to stay busy,” they tell us. “I still have ideas I want to try out here.” “I’m not sure the next generation is really ready yet. Let me work with them just a bit longer.”

Here’s what we ask senior leaders that have reached age 60 to think about: What age were you when you got to take on a senior role in your organization? And how old are the members of your junior leadership group? If they are as old as or older than you were when you got the big break, how long do you think they’ll stand in line waiting for you to be ready? And honestly, do you think you’ll ever really be ready to give up what you love doing? If you work until you keel over at your desk, what will the future look like for this organization you’ve poured your brains and energy into for umpteen years?

Boomer, get tough with yourself. Quietly, to yourself or with your life partner, pick a date a ways in the future – at least a year – and begin to think about what you would do if you were retired as of that date. Look around the workplace and ask yourself what you would miss; and whether you could get that from another source. The “theys” that know these things say that in retirement, people want to continue to feel life has meaning – that there’s a purpose for getting up each morning; activities that energize them; companionship; and an overall sense of identity after they are no longer an employee or an officer or a partner at the firm. So during this “pretend like you’re retiring” time, think about how you’ll fill the gaps left when you leave the workplace you’re currently in.

Just like graduating from high school or college, all possibilities are open to retirees. You can work somewhere else; work part-time or part-year; start your own business; spend more hours volunteering; travel; read books you’ve put off; build a car; or sit on the patio with your feet up if you want to.

Once you mentally try on retirement, and you realize it won’t be all bad, then set a date “for real” and say it out loud to your board, your boss, your colleagues and your family. We’ve invested so much of who we are in what we do that there will surely be a grieving process. That’s going to be true no matter when you retire or how happy you are to do so. You’ve got to go through it sometime. Maybe you should do it now, before that bright talent you’ve been grooming gets bored (or frustrated) and moves on.

If you found a copy of this article on your desk, left there anonymously, don’t be offended. It doesn’t mean they don’t respect and admire you. It just means they want their turn.