Retiring executive? You’d better have your personal succession plan first …

by  Christina Haxton  |  Self Leadership

If you don’t know Jack … you should meet him.

Are you a hero at work and a zero at home?

Jack is a successful executive who is recently retired at the early age of 52 as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company that made a financial turn around from red to black on his watch.  He was very proud of the achievement … and several thousand employees were grateful for Jack’s abilities as an excellent CEO.

Jack, like most successful leaders looking toward retirement, wanted to be sure he would leave his company in good hands, and carefully chose and groomed his successor three years before he retired.

Jack was also financially smart and planned for  his retirement and family’s finacial security going forward.

As most driven executives, he was a competitive typical Type A personality, a high achiever who was respected by many (and feared by some).  Before he retired, his wife described him as a “workaholic.”  Now she says he has too much time on his hands. He is driving her nuts.  The kids are wondering who the stranger is who now lives in the house.  In other words, he’s a bit of a pain in the a**.  No matter how good it looks to play golf full time after working 60-80 hours a week for years, Jack has now discovered he can only play so many rounds of golf (or tennis).

Fast forward, several months into Jack’s retirement.  Jack feels bored, restless, dissatisfied and somewhat useless.  His family doesn’t “snap to attention” like his employees did when he walks into the room.  In fact, they often disappear.  “Honey,” asks Jack of his wife of 18 years, “how many kids do we have, was it three or four?  If it was four, I never see her … she’s invisible.”  To make matters worse, Jack’s wife has her own interests, without him.  She spends time with her friends, enjoys her part time job at the hospital and has recently taken up scuba diving.  Jack is also noticing they snap at each other more, often using sarcasm and sometimes even arguing loudly in front of the kids.

Jack sees his once sweet (and cooperative) daughter, now 16, defiant, angry and deliberately breaking rules and getting into trouble at school. On her last last report card, she failed several of her classes.  He shamefully confesses that he doesn’t even know what’s going on in his two boys’ lives any more.  He did when they were little … what happened?  If this is what retirement is like, I’d rather be back to work!

The problem?  While Jack prepared his company for his exit, Jack failed to prepare himself, and his family, for his entrance.  You see, Jack’s wife was right.  Jack was a workaholic and for good reason.  Human nature.  Jack spend a lot of time at work because his work gave him identity, purpose and a sense of accomplishment.  Whether he spent less time at home because he didn’t feel as accomplished and purposeful as a father or husband as he did a CEO, or the other way around.

Jack wasn’t a bad father or neglectful husband.  He was human.  We spend more time doing what is familiar and what makes us feel good, than we do where we don’t feel as satisfied.  As time passes, we spend more and more time at work and less and less time at home.  We inherently will avoid the discomfort, the conflict we are experiencing at home.  Unfortunately, Jack sees evidence which only supports his “theory” that “they (i.e., Jack’s family), don’t like or respect me as much as the people work do.

The solution?  What if Jack was able to rewind the clock back to a year or two (or five) before his official retirement date and do his own “personal” and “professional” succession planning?

  • How could he have re-entered the family atmosphere a little more smoothly?
  • What would have had to happen before he was home full time to prepare everyone, including Jack, for the transition home?
  • What hobbies, interests or “someday goals” could Jack have begun cultivating and taking action on several years before his retirement date that could have been in almost full swing by the time he officially retired?

Here’s my advice to Jack:  If Jack had fully and completely planned for his retirement ahead of time, he would have made a few jaws drop when his response to “What do you do?” comes easily, confidently … even though he is without a title or a job.

What if Jack responded with a smile, by saying, “Instead of asking me ‘What do you do?’ ask instead ‘Who are you?’  That’s a question I can now answer… with confidence and satisfaction!”

What would your advice to Jack have been?






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What People Are Saying

Christina Haxton, MA LMFT  |  18 May 2012  |  Reply

I wanted to share a great response from Patrick McLaughlin …

“It may be a case of my imagination running wild but, on reading Christina’s entertaining (for the reader, that is, not for the shell-shocked wife and children), and meaningful picture of the unprepared, retiring C.E.O., I thought back to my marathon days. Apart from the obvious requirement of doing the training, those who have lived the experience of that 26-mile, 42-k journey recognize, or should have recognized, two essential bits of the training schedule : WARM-UP and WARM-DOWN, The WARM-DOWN element was the crucial component which this C.E.O. neglected…with results as disastrous as those of the marathoner who simply ‘hangs out’ after crossing the finish line.”

Read my response here …

Jim Crocker  |  21 May 2012  |  Reply

Christina hi. Really interesting and inspiring post. For the past two years we’ve been working with ‘post-corporate’ senior execs. Our solution for those who haven’t planned well (almost all!) is to provide a safe re-entry ‘platform’ (it even includes business cards!) where they can figure out who they are, what they want to be and learn new skills for getting along in a world where the corporate identity and safety net is now gone. Frequently, we attract people 6 months to a year after they’ve left corporate life. Why then? Because that’s when the reality of life at without work starts to hit home (literally).

While it’s fascinating and uplifting work, the pain we see every day is real. More execs need to do exactly what you’re suggesting and start planning ahead of time. If they saw what we see – they would.

Defining who they are post-corporately is the greatest struggle our execs face. There are no silver bullets but we know this – EVERYONE we meet is walking around with a set of skills, knowledge, experience and training that makes them completely unique. Tapping that – and resisting the pressures to ‘conform’ (old thinking) – is almost always the key to a new, satisfying life after work.

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