In 2014: Design The Best Place To Work, by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Coaching

by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Coaching

jsw_kidbuildingAs we embark onto 2014 I would like challenge you to design the very best place to work! How would this organization of our dreams look do you ask? Read on…

Rob Goffee, an emeritus professor of organizational behavioral at the London School of Business, and Gareth Jones, a visiting professor at the IF Business School in Madrid, posed the question about what the company of our dreams looks like to hundreds of leaders. They summarized their findings in the May 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review (“Creating the best workplace on earth: what employees really require to be their most productive”)

Here is what they found. In the organization of our dreams:

  1. I can be myself
  2. I am told what is really going on
  3. My strengths are magnified
  4. The company stands for something meaningful
  5. My daily work is rewarding
  6. Stupid rules don’t exist

These principles might all sound like common sense. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place that followed them? Most leaders and all of our clients are aware of the benefits of such a ‘dream organization’, which many studies have confirmed. And yet, no organization we are aware of possesses all six virtues.

Why is that so? Several of the attributes run counter to traditional and well established practices and deeply ingrained habits. Others are complicated and costly to implement. Some conflict with each other. All of them require you as the leader to carefully balance competing interests and to rethink how you allocate your time and energy.

So as Goffee and Jones point out, the company of our dreams remains largely aspirational.  I therefore offer the below assessment as a challenge to you and your people to aim at creating the most productive and rewarding working environment possible.

The Dream Company Diagnostic

How close is your business to the ideal? The more checks, the closer you are.

  1. Take the assessment yourself
  2. Have your senior team and a cross section of your people take the assessment
  3. Compare the findings and discuss inconsistencies

Let me be myself

___ I am the same person at home as I am at work

___ I feel comfortable being myself

___ We are all encouraged to express our differences

___ People who think differently from most do well here

___ Passion is encouraged, even when it leads to conflict

___ More than one type of person fits in here

Tell me what’s really going on

___ We’re all told the whole story

___ Information is not “spun”

___ It’s not disloyal to say something negative

___ My manager wants to hear bad news

___ Top executives want to hear bad news

___ Many channels of communication are available to us

___ I feel comfortable signing my name to comments I make

 Discover and magnify my strengths

___ I am given the chance to develop

___ Every employee is given the chance to develop

___ The best people want to strut their stuff here

___ The weakest performers can see a path to improvement

___ Compensation is fairly distributed throughout the organization

___ We generate value for ourselves by adding value to others

Make me proud I work here

___ I know what we stand for

___ I value what we stand for

___ I want to exceed my current duties

___ Profit is not our overriding goal

___ I am accomplishing something worthwhile

___ I like to tell people where I work

Make my work meaningful

___ My job is meaningful to me

___ My duties make sense to me

___ My work gives me energy and pleasure

___ I understand how my job fits with everyone else’s

___ Everyone’s job is necessary

___ At work we share a common cause

Don’t hinder me with stupid rules

___ We keep things simple

___ The rules are clear and apply equally to everyone

___ I know what the rules are for

___ Everyone knows what the rules are for

___ We, as an organization, resist red tape

___ Authority is respected

Decide where you believe the most important deficits are and take action during 2014 in order to move your organization one step closer towards the very best place to work.

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One-on-One Meetings: One of the Most Effective Leadership Tools by Urs Koenig

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

One on Ones for Better LeadershipDuring his tenure as CIO of Swissair (the former Swiss Airline) my dad applied for the top job at the Swiss Disaster Relief Agency. During the interview, he was asked to define leadership. He responded with a one liner (and was expected to present a thesis and as a result didn’t get the job…): “Being a leader means getting things done through your people.”

While I like his definition for its brevity, the question remains: how do you get stuff done through your people? You engage them, you inspire them, you listen to them, you set goals for them and you hold them accountable.
And what is one of the most effective and efficient ways to engage, inspire, listen, set goals and hold your people accountable?

You guessed it: Conducting regular and meaningful one-on-one meetings with your direct reports.
As with so many of the things we coach our clients on, conducting regular, productive and meaningful one-on-ones is a very simple concept but not always easy to pull off.

Why have yet another meeting and what if I don’t have time?

If you are like 90 % of the managers out there, most of your interactions with your people occur in an ad hoc manner — during team meetings (even if many of the people present don’t need to be part of the conversation), in hurried emails and voicemails, in passing in the hallway, or when a big problem desperately needs attention.

While all of these often interrupted, incomplete and hurried interactions are one-on-ones, they are seldom the most effective ones. Often there is no logic to the timing of these conversations. In fact, they are usually random, incomplete, and often too late to head off a problem or solve it before it grows large.

Regular one-on-one meetings will get you ahead of this curve. Not only will your people prepare for the time they have your undivided attention, they will discuss issues they won’t bring up in a group meeting or in impromptu discussions: their dissatisfaction with part of their current role, interpersonal challenges or other problems that could keep them from succeeding at work.

One on OnesIf your direct report is falling short, the one-on-one setting enables you to communicate in no uncertain terms what changes you need to see happening. Following the principal of praising in public and criticizing in private, you can be firmer and sterner during a one-on-one than during a team meeting. Think of the perfect one-on-one meeting as hybrid of an information gathering, planning, coaching and accountability meeting.

Like any meaningful meeting, not having it will cost you an expensive multiple of the time you would have spent in the meeting. Having it will save you time and headaches in the long run. There is one more important, not often talked about benefit to regular, meaningful on-on-ones. By sitting down with your direct reports and demonstrating true interest and concern not only for their productivity but also for their input, opinions and development, you build a more committed and engaged team which leads to all sorts of well documented soft benefits (e.g. increased job satisfaction) and hard benefits (e.g. lower turn-over, lower recruiting and training costs).

But how do I best do them?

Schedule 30 minute one-on-one meetings with each of your direct reports at least every other week, better every week. Make it a regular, re-occurring meeting. Don’t use travel as an excuse not to have it; conduct a phone meeting instead.

Keep a file for each of your direct reports where you gather all the none-time sensitive questions and issues you need to discuss with them. So rather than interrupting your folks constantly whenever you think of something, drop it in the file for discussion during the one-on-one. Take notes of issues raised in the one-on-one and agreed upon courses of action.

Here is my suggestion for a standing agenda for your one on one meeting:

1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
2. What is going well?
3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
4. Action items going forward

Once a quarter, I recommend you go ‘bigger’ and cover the following:

1. Where are we going (the organization)?
2. Where are you going?
3. What are you and your part of the biz doing well? What are you proud of?
4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your part of the biz, for yourself)?
5. How can I help?
6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me?

Have the one-on-one meeting primarily driven by your direct report. Make this a coaching conversation by asking lots of questions and listening well. Provide guidance if it’s needed but do not fall into the trap of filling the time with your own talk. If you are taking up more than 30 % of air time, you are talking too much.

How to Delegate Effectively By Urs Koenig, MBA, Phd, Principal Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

by Urs Koenig, MBA, Phd, Principal, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

Is This You?

Learn How to Delegate EffectivelyJoe is the managing partner of private equity firm. He has tons of balls in the air at any one time. He is generally good at delegating projects and tasks. Yet when his stress level rises, he feels the urge to re-engage in projects he previously delegated and ends up frustrating his people. Joe is micro managing and getting overly involved with his subordinates’ projects.

Susanne is the Senior Vice President of Operations. She has a background in sales and enjoys nothing more than building relationships. Because of her position, she gets bombarded with requests for meetings and calls. By her own admission, she finds herself too often spending time with people who should be talking to her sales force instead of her. Susanne is engaged in tasks that be done effectively by someone at a lower level in the company.

Recognize yourself or one of your managers in the above behavior patterns? If so, read on!

Delegate More of The Right Stuff

Most leaders we talk to feel that they need to do a better job at delegating. Indeed, effectively delegating might arguably be THE hardest leadership competency to master. While the majority of leaders and managers need to delegate more, it’s not just a question of delegating as much as possible but delegating the right stuff. It might actually be that your people need you more and not less involved in certain areas.

Ask Your People

Our advice is simple. Sit down with each of your direct reports and ask them the following questions (credit to Marshall Goldsmith) about each of their areas of responsibility:

  • Are there areas and projects where you believe that I am too hands-on and can let go more? Are there projects where I need to get more involved and provide you with more guidance?

During the course of this discussion you will inevitably find that you are micro managing in certain areas and that more delegation is needed there, while more of your involvement is asked for in other areas.

Then Ask Your Direct Reports:

  • Do you ever see me working on tasks that someone at my level doesn’t need to do? Are there areas where I can help other people grow and develop, and give myself more time to focus on strategy and long-term planning?

I will virtually guarantee you that your direct reports will come up with great suggestions for you on things a person in your position should not be doing.

Ask yourself and your people these tough questions. The responses will most likely be eye opening and will save you time, energy and make you more effective. All the things good delegation is supposed to do!

Following our coaching philosophy we encourage you to commit to concrete action steps to your direct reports on how you will improve your delegation and then check in with them on a regular basis on how you are doing.

And remember the ‘D’ in LeaDership stands for Delegating!

Confront the Brutal Facts of Your Reality, by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

by Urs Koenig, Phd, MBA, Principle, Redpoint Succession and Leadership Coaching

I  have been a pretty successful athlete for most of my life. Almost two and a half years ago, I suffered from a partial tear of my left patella tendon. Ever since, my physical well being has been severely compromised. Things have been going from bad to worse and these days I am dealing with several joint troubles and I am happy if I can walk more or less pain free, let alone compete in 12,24, 36, or 72 hour races.

It goes without saying that this has been very challenging for me. I used to manage my energy level and well-being by working out at least once (often twice) daily. I met many of my best friends through my athletic endeavors. A lot of my-self worth and identity was wrapped up in my athletic success. I was known as ‘that crazy sports guy’ (and yes, I did not mind that I admit).

For the first year and a half or so after my initial injury, I would try and set my-self goals on when I would get better. I remember, for example, in the late summer of 2009 mapping out the fall with therapy and treatments and planning to get back on the bike by December 1st. It was not meant to be. Despite of all my efforts, I actually got worse that fall. I would do the same again in May of 2010 and plan for a re-entry into the athletic world by November of 2010. Again, while at least not going backwards, I did not get better.

I am learning a lot of lessons from this ongoing experience (and will probably write some more about it later). One of them is having what Jim Collins calls the ‘Stockdale Paradox’ coming alive for me.

Let me explain.

The Stockdale Paradox: Great companies (and people) retain faith that they will prevail in the end regardless of the difficulties and at the same time, confront the most brutal facts of their current reality, whatever they might be.

Or for me personally: Retaining faith that eventually I will be able to be physically active again, while confronting the brutal fact that there is no way of knowing or planning when this will be the case again. Maybe next month, maybe next year, maybe in five plus years…

The Stockdale paradox is named after Vice Admiral Stockdale who was the highest ranking US military official in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ Prisoner of War (POW) camp in Vietnam. He was tortured more than twenty times during his eight years of imprisonment.

Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale USNHe lived without POW rights, a set release date, nor any certainty as to whether he would ever see his family again. He did everything he could to support other inmates while fighting his captors. At one point, he deliberately beat himself with a stool and cut himself with a razor so that he could not be put on video tape as an example of a “well treated prisoner.” He invented a communication system of taps to help comrades dealing with the isolation. During an imposed silence, the prisoners mopping the floor swept the yard used the code to swish-swash out ‘we love you’ to Stockdale on his third anniversary of being shot down.

Asked by the author Jim Collins on how he dealt with the seemingly hopeless situation, he replied: “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but that I would prevail in the end.”

Asked about who did not make it out he says:

“Oh, that is easy. The optimists. They were the ones who said, ‘we are going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they would die of a broken heart.”

Stockdale goes on saying: “This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can not afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

As you ponder the Stockdale paradox, ask yourself for your business:

How disciplined are you and your staff at relentlessly confronting the most brutal facts of your current business reality?

If you are doubtful, consider the following questions:

  • Name three things you have been avoiding in your business. What can you do TODAY to bring these issues out into the open?
  • Which part of your current reality which are out of your control are you refusing to accept? Where are you holding on to the past?
  • What ‘red flag mechanisms’ (e.g. regular review of your financials) can you put in place to make sure you are confronting reality?

For more information about Vice Admiral Stockdale and his story, visit here.

Develop Trust and Devote Quality Time: Two Ingrediants of Great Leadership

I’ve recently conducted several 360 degree surveys for my Redpoint clients. A 360 degree survey provides feedback to a business owner in the form of an anonymous performance assessment by all the people (subordinates, colleagues, managers, clients, suppliers) who surround that person (hence “360 degree”).

In the case of my clients, the owners and CEOs typically want to receive feedback on their leadership skills from their staff. During the process, we define the criteria they want to use for the assessment, and then I draft a questionnaire, survey the staff, and compile and present the results.

Now, if you think this is an intimidating exercise, you are not alone! Because of the anonymous nature of the exercise, staff members are often brutally honest and are not reluctant to reveal their views. In each case, my clients have taken on the challenge bravely, knowing that this candid assessment is a critical first step towards their own improvement.

Back comes great feedback about their performances as “the boss.” They are perceived as exceptional at interacting with clients, great at getting business results and strong communicators. The two critical areas of improvement I continually observe are:

  • Lack of quality time spent with staff; and
  • Lack of trust

Critical area #1: You need to spend more quality time with your staff

Lots of owners of growing companies experience this: heavy workloads prevent you from spending time with the very people you rely on to get the job done, and who look to you for direction, mentorship and reward. Your busy schedule therefore leads to ‘seagull’ management: you stop in quickly and drop a ton of information, directions and sometimes criticism on your staff before you quickly take off again.

It came back loud and clear from my clients’ feedback: you need to take the time to talk to people substantively, ask them how things are really going, and really listen to their answers. It is not necessarily the quantity, but quality of time and interaction that counts.

Staff members who have been heard and feel that their feedback and suggestions have been taken on board are always more engaged workers. And engaged workers are almost always better performers.

Ask yourself: Over the last week, how many people in my business have I asked how things are going? How many people have I thanked for a job well done? Remember: praise in public, criticize in private. And, of course: when you are wrong (and you are and will be :-), apologize.

Critical area #2: Lack of trust: “We sometimes feel you do not trust us. It always has to go your way”

I am sure this sounds at least somewhat familiar to most business owners. After all, this is your baby, you have grown it and you know best what it needs. Trusting someone else to take over and perform tasks you have owned for so long is incredibly difficult.

In fact, the reason why people start businesses in the first place is that they believe they can perform a particular task better than anyone else (or at least better than their current or past employer). This strong belief in one’s abilities is one of the great strengths of the entrepreneur. Yet we know this strength can also become your biggest liability: the reality is that if you want to build a company, you have to trust people to help run it for you.

Trust sounds like a challenging concept to actively develop, but Carl Robinson, a Seattle based psychologist and executive coach, offers some helpful insights in his discussion of trust that appeared in an article in the Journal of Managerial Psychology (2004):

Motive-Based Trust is what most people think about when they think of trust. It is based on the belief that another’s values, goals and beliefs are closely aligned with yours.

Competency-Based Trust is based on your belief that your employees have the capabilities to get the job done.

So how then can we learn to develop these forms of trust?

How To Develop Competency-Based Trust

  • Assess Your Hiring: Do you have the right people in place to get the job done? Do they either have the necessary capabilities or are they willing and able to learn them? If yes, read on. If no, you need to consider making some staff replacements.
  • Take time to observe your people in action. Give them goals and let them come up with their own methodologies. Resist the huge temptation to jump in with solutions and advice-giving. If, after a while, you do not like what you see, go back to assessing your hiring practices or start providing more training.
  • Look for outside support. Hire a coach or consultant and/or establish a board you can lean on to help assess candidates. For more info on the benefits and how-to’s of establishing a board see: http://www.redpointcoaching.com/resources/documents/Oct03.pdf .

How to Develop Motive-Based Trust

While developing competency-based trust is relatively straightforward, motive-based trust tends to develop only once competency-based trust is established; motive-based trust is, therefore, harder to assess. Because this is a more intangible area, lots of entrepreneurs rely on their instincts. Remember, though, that you have great tools to align motives:

Remunerate staff based on their performance (e.g. a commission pay structure for your sales staff or a profit sharing pay scheme).

  • Provide key staff members with equity in your business. Carl Robinson argues that in an imperfect world where trusting relationships sometimes have to develop quickly, distributing equity is a great way to establish tentative trust.

My experience with 360 degree surveys has shown me that spending quality time with your staff and developing competency- and motive-based trust makes all the difference between mediocre and great business owners.

Contact me if you would like more information on conducting a 360 degree in your organization.

How To Lead Generation Y: Delivering The Leadership That Will Make Them Thrive Is Easier Than You Think

by Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA

Personal note: In my previous position as marketing director at Merriman, a financial advising firm, I had both the two oldest (60+) and the youngest member (23) of the entire firm on my team. My team spanned almost all four of the previous generations (Traditionalists, born between 1926-1938), Baby Boomers (1945-1960), Generation X (1961-1981), and Generation Y (1985-1995). Including an intern, I had four Generation Y members working for me. One of the things I enjoyed most about my job was to facilitate and lead intergenerational team-work. If you are leading young adults (or are in charge of people who lead them) I believe you will find the lessons I have learned about leading members of Generation Y helpful.

Shannon is 25 years old. She is in her second job out of college. She was hired as a ‘high potential’ candidate by her current company. She survived several rounds of layoffs and is very unhappy in her current position. Her old-school, corporate, generation-X boss micromanages her time while not providing much feedback or guidance on her actual job. Shannon is disillusioned with management and cynical about her job. She puts in the absolute minimum in time and effort and spends a lot of her working time surfing the web. The poor job market is the only thing stopping her from leaving the company.

Bruce is 19 years old and in his second year of college. He is the third generation in a family business. His grandfather (70) only recently handed over day-to-day operations to his father (45). This summer Bruce is interning as the ‘social media guru,’ his first paying job in the family business. After a few weeks, he is highly frustrated. In his view, people at the company simply ‘don’t get it.’ He truly desires to make an impact and help make a difference but feels that no one is listening to his ideas or values his input. In the interest of family peace, he decides to continue with the internship but secretly vows to never again work in this family business.

The above real-life examples demonstrates what happens when Generation Y leadership goes bad.

Today’s young adults entering the workforce are a different breed than those of any of the generations before them. They must be lead slightly differently as they enter the workforce:

Provide constant feedback (and manage their sense of entitlement)
These young adults are used to and crave instant and constant feedback. Most of them grew up with lots of praise. Many Trophy Kids received ribbons and trophies simply for showing up at Saturday games. Their parents have told them over and over again they can achieve anything they want. They are highly optimistic and sometimes out of touch with reality. They are definitely not used to being told that the quality of their work needs improvement.

As their leader, it is virtually impossible for you to over communicate. Provide them with ongoing, just-in-time feedback. Give them the praise and appreciation they crave. At the same time, hold them accountable. You might be the first one to ever tell them the truth about the quality of their work. If they are falling short, you need to tell them. As their leader and mentor, you need to help them discover their weaknesses and strengths and then play to those strengths

A word of caution though: Don’t ever micro manage their time. Instead, lead by objective. They value a flexible schedule and might do their best work from the local Starbucks or at 2 a.m. in their pajamas. Assess their performance, not their attendance!

Be a strong mentor and coach
This is probably the most important lesson of them all. Members of Generation Y are extremely responsive to mentoring and coaching. Develop strong and meaningful relationships with them by really getting to know them: Take them for coffee, go for a lunchtime walk/run, play some golf and most important, ask questions and really listen to what they have to say.

Learn their passions, their desires, their aspiration in life. In return, share your experiences and lessons you have learned. They are hungry for your insights, they love to be ‘in the know’ and they will soak up your knowledge, feedback and advice. Become their strong mentor and coach and your Gen Y’s will thrive, blossom and follow you loyally.

You might also explore a ‘reversed mentoring’ approach, something Jack Welch at GE pioneered over 20 year ago. The idea is to pair Baby boomers with members of Generation Y. The Boomers share their work experience while the Generation Y team members enlighten Boomers about new technologies and social networking.

Share why their work is important
These young people have little time for doing things because they are told to do so or because ‘that’s how we have always done it.’ They are hungry for data and information. Remember that, for better or worse, many of them are constantly multi-tasking, and are taking in thousands of technology messages every day. Faced with this overload, they quickly sort incoming information between what they deem is ‘need to know’ versus ‘nice to know’.

Provide them with lots of context and information. Communicate the importance of their work and tell them how it fits into the company’s overall big picture. Help them see that what they do really matters. Show them how their work is making your organization better, making a difference in the world and is part of something bigger – not just adding to the bottom line. Several studies, for example, have shown the importance of environmental causes for Generation Y.

In short: get them fired up for your vision, show them how their work will directly help you to make the vision a reality and your Gen Y-ers will be the best people who ever worked for you!

Give them opportunity for input and ownership
Members of Generation Y have been on their laptops since they were four. They grew up with posting and voting on Facebook and blogs. They have a strong desire to express themselves, to comment and to provide input on topics.

Be bold and have them provide you input and feedback on high-level strategic topics which you would normally not share with them. They will forever value you for giving them the opportunity to ‘upload their thoughts’ and much like any generation before them, they will throw their support behind what they helped to create.

After they have given you their input, it’s time to challenge them: Carve out a project with a clearly defined deliverable, a budget and a timeline, then give them full ownership of it. Make yourself available as a coach and mentor. But don’t micromanage them or their projects.

Be tough when assessing the results of their work by providing the honest, credible feedback they so crave.

Are You Ready for Succession? Tackling the personal challenges of handing over leadership

By Urs Koenig, PhD, MBA www.redpointcoaching.com


The technical aspects of succession planning are covered at length in both the academic literature and in the work of ‘real life’ consultants. Less explored are the very real and equally influential personal struggles and strong emotions that often unfold during the succession process.

Anyone who has ever been in charge of an organization knows the kind of personal investment this work requires. After a while, being the CEO is not what you do but who you are. This is even more true for founders. So transitioning out of the top spot and handing over the role that has essentially become ‘You’ is a very personal process indeed.

Even as you continue to lead your organization, you need to prepare for your departure. You might think that this will be easy. You will likely be wrong! Handing over leadership to the next generation will be tougher than you think.

Letting go is hard to do
Any successful transition starts with coming to terms with the fact that it is probably going to be hard for you to let go. Leaders who realistically face the personal challenges of transitions are much better prepared to leave than those who deny the difficulties.

In addition to leaving significant monetary benefits and perks behind, what makes it so hard to leave what is after all a highly stressful job. What can you do to ease the transition?

The mind-set that served you well going into the job (or founding the company) will make it challenging for you to transition out–in all likelihood, you have become the job. Going into the job you had to be convinced that you were the one who could do the best job at leading the organization. You also must have either convinced a board and/or numerous lenders and investors that you were the absolute perfect person for the job. For most leaders, pulling this off requires a very healthy ego when it comes to work performance. Even if you are modest and not a show-off, transitioning from being in the midst of it all, making it all happen, to taking a background mentoring role and getting your kicks out of your successors’ successes (versus your own) can be very challenging.

Along with the proverbial corner office, here’s what you’re likely to miss most:

Status: When we hear status, we often think of corporate CEOs with all their perks, name recognition and corporate jets. But status can come in a lot of different forms. Successful business owners in small town America, for example, enjoy a fair share of status as well. They are admired by their community and receive a lot of recognition for their position. Even if you were never seeking status, losing it and becoming a ‘used to be’ can be very difficult. Many studies have shown that losing something (e.g., status) creates significantly more pain than the amount of pleasure we enjoyed when we originally obtained it.

Power: When you’re in charge, you know your job matters! Every single day you are making a difference in people’s lives. Not many people have as much influence as you. Power might simply be defined as being able to influence. No one in any managerial position gets anything done without power. Top leaders have a high need for power. Throughout your career you have gradually gained more and more power. When you leave your job you will suddenly feel a loss of power. Marshall Goldsmith recounts one executive’s perspective: “It was like falling off a cliff. My loss of power: ‘They are not bothering to return my phone calls.’ When I was the CEO, my phone calls always were immediately returned!”

Meaning: Most CEOs find true meaning in their work. They truly care about what their organization is doing for their clients. They value their workforce and are passionate about the mission of the business. You might fear that nothing you will do in the future do will ever make as much of a difference and create as much meaning for you as being CEO. You might be right. Often one of the most challenging parts of the succession process is to find new and uncharted ways to create meaning in your life.

Relationships: Unless you are working in a family business, you will have spent significantly more time with your co-workers, clients and suppliers than with your friends and family. As the leader, you like most of your co-workers – otherwise they would not be working for you anymore. You have been through highs and lows and have seen the best and worst in each other. The more you have been through together the closer you will be. Some of your co-workers will have become close friends and some feel like family. It can be very hard to leave your workplace friends and family. 

Picking the Right Time
It will almost certainly be hard for you to choose the right time to slow down and hand over leadership. If your organization is achieving wonderful things, growing, making a difference for more people every year, adding cash to the bottom line and providing a wonderful work environment, why in the world would you want to leave?

If, on the other hand, you are falling behind or not achieving what you set out to do, your competitive drive won’t let you quit. After all, a lot of what you achieved was due to the fact that you kept going against all odds. You persevered when a lot of other people would have thrown in the towel. You will be convinced that you will be able to turn the ship around if only you are given a bit more time.

When deciding on the right time to leave, consider these two useful principles:

  • You make the call – leave while you can still make the decision rather than having the decision made for you. Remember that being able to choose the right time to leave is a privilege. Many leaders are not that lucky. They either get pushed out of their position (by the board, other family members, or their successor) or their health forces them to step down. Treat this choice as the privilege it is and don’t simply bury your head in denial about your eventual departure.
  • Go when you feel pulled towards something rather than when you feel pushed out of the business – While it will be difficult to leave your current position, try to make the move at least in part because you have ‘something better’ to do afterwards. Move while you are attracted to and intrigued by (and in demand for!) a different opportunity and before you are pushed out of your leadership position either by higher forces or by the fact that you have tired of the top job.

Building a Great Rest of Your Life
‘Who am I going to be?’ and ‘What am I going to do?’ are the all-important questions you have to ask yourself as you prepare for succession.

Most retiring leaders leave their positions in their sixties when they are in good health and have twenty + years ahead of them. For the majority, a leisurely retirement spent sampling cruises and chipping away at their golf handicap is not an option. Many have tried it. Most realize that the desire to just rest and relax won’t last very long and that their drive and ambition did not simply disappear with their job. Simply stopping might therefore not be an option.

Today’s retiring leaders are looking to continue to make a contribution and pursue something that has true meaning. Instead of becoming a person who used to make a difference, they want to remain a person who still is making a difference.

They are also looking for happiness realized by living lives full of meaning and contribution, and enjoying close relationships with friends, family and the new team members in the ‘after job.’

If you are nearing succession, think about the rest of your life. Now is a great time to start planning and challenging yourself. How can you make a contribution? What makes you really happy? How can you find meaning?

You might have 20-30 years left. How can you make this time count for yourself and for the people around you?

If you have a path beyond your current leadership role that you believe will give you meaning and make you happy, it will be much easier for you to let go. If on the other hand, you see no options that excite you, you are more likely to hang on much longer than you should.

Three concrete things we encourage our clients to do when we’re coaching them through handing over the baton of leadership of their business:

  • Learn from others who have been in your shoes. Seek out peers who have gone through the process. Find out what has worked for them and what has not. Remember: a smart person learns from her mistakes. An even smarter person learns from the mistakes of others.
  • ‘Interview’ the people who know you best about potential pitfalls and opportunities of the succession process. Treat this as a research project: What do your friends and family think? What are they most excited and most worried about for you? If they could give you once piece of advice, what would it be?
  • In thinking about how to build a great rest of your life, fast-forward 5 years and write a holiday letter for 2015 to your friends and family. What did your life look like this year? How did you spend your time? What got you excited? What were the challenges? What are you looking forward to in 2016?

Note: this article was inspired by the writing of Marshall Goldsmith, in particular his book: Succession. Are You Ready? Harvard Business Press 2009.