Transitions, Part IV

There is no more frightening time for a CEO than when it’s time to transition out of the business they’ve spent so much of their life building. It’s more frightening than the launch phase where changes can happen quickly, every decision seems like a life-or-death choice for the company, and where cash is always in short supply. It’s greater than during the growth years where the company’s and its leader’s growth move in lockstep
and the focus shifts to attracting, keeping, and trusting competent people to help grow the business, essentially moving from one size boat to another.

Most business owners understand the physical aspects of selling their business. Somebody writes a check, and somebody receives one. One day they’re shouldering the responsibilities of their company and the next day they’re not. But too often former owners overlook the emotional elements of selling their company and the transition they’ll experience as they leave one phase of their career and settle into a new one.

If the intent is to set up the company for an outright sale, then ensuring its health and navigating the changes and transitions that are necessary to do so go a long way in m,securing an attractive price. That’s the simple choice, but not always the desired one.

We’re witnessing firsthand the contributions and value people continue to bring to organizations as they mature. The last two presidents of the United States were sworn into office after they had turned seventy. The chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, continues to lead the company and affect global financial markets with his insights at age 90 (his business partner, Charlie Munger, is 97!). Management guru Peter Drucker authored 10 books after his 85th birthday. Nationally, nearly 15% of people over the age of 70 continue to work. Not just because they need the income, but because they want to continue to grow and to give back. So, while many owners have moved out of their previous roles, they’re transitioning into positions where they can continue to bring value to their previous company or to the larger business community.

The outdated notion that people should stop working when they turn 65 and retire to a quiet beach somewhere is just that—outdated. It’s based on an archaic, industrial-age model of physical labor jobs with little mental stimulation and even fewer emotional rewards. So, the next transition for many is into a role where they can leverage their experiences and the lessons they learned over their career and use that knowledge to
mentor and guide younger generations of workers.

Regardless of the changes we experience in our company, or the size boat we are sailing, it’s how successfully we manage the emotional transition that accompanies these changes that will largely determine the joy and fulfillment we’ll derive from our work.

In the introduction to the book Sychronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski, Peter Senge writes “One of the great mysteries of our current state of consciousness is how we can live in a world where absolutely nothing is fixed, and yet perceive a world of “fixedness.” “Because of how we think,” he continues, “we’re strangling the life out of ourselves.”

Embracing the transitions that accompany change will help us avoid that

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