“In a market that’s become extremely lean and mean… individuals
who have tended to be the senior statesmen of their day are sometimes the first
That comment by Richard Stein, an executive recruiter in New York, should be
handed out with diplomas to all newly minted MBAs. On the one hand this is good
news for them because it means there is room at the top — but it’s also a
warning to these up-and-comers that time flies.
Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times, who spoke to Stein as well
as a number of senior leaders in law and financial services firms, reports that
the day of involuntary retirement is fast approaching for many senior leaders,
many of whom want to hang on to their jobs a while longer.
Reluctance to exit is understandable. Many senior leaders define themselves
by their jobs. Senior executives especially grow accustomed to the perks that
come with the job. But it’s not the corporate jet they’ll miss the most when
they leave. People in power miss being in power. No longer will their phone
calls be returned nor will people stop them in the halls to ask their advice.
In retiring, they lose what they treasure most: influence.
That is why Stein’s dictum is so pertinent to today’s emerging leaders.
Prepare for the future now. There is a misperception that legacy is something
reserved for the CEO and his or her team in their last year at the top. No, you
begin to create your legacy your first day on the job — and you build on it
with every accomplishment over your career. (You also scuff up that legacy with
mistakes you make, too.)
All too often, as Schwartz’s reporting shows, those at the top have nowhere
to go once they leave the office for the last time. I know from experience that
too many senior leaders are married to the job at the expense of their
families. They have also pushed aside hobbies and pursuits that might be
sources of enrichment now. This leaves them unprepared to hand off their work
to the next generation. As my friend Marshall Goldsmith writes in Succession:
Are You Ready?, “If you really wanted to ‘stop,’ you would have
stopped by now.”
The challenge for emerging leaders, as well as those in the middle, too, is
to develop the other side of yourself now. Do not wait till retirement. Then
it’s too late. Here are some suggestions to help you broaden your efforts to
life beyond work:
Nurture close relationships. For most of us, family is what
matters most. Be certain you spend time with who love you most. There will be
years when you are not as available as you may like to be, but never skimp on
what you can do when you can do it. And don’t forget your friends.
Find a passion outside of your job. If you’re lucky enough
to have a career you love, it can be hard to remember to find a hobby you love,
too. But find that hobby and invest in it, whether it’s golf, swing dancing,
community theater. Just find something that provides another enrichment in your
life — and make time for it.
Give of yourself. Find a way to give to your community. Your
definition of community is what you want it to be — where you live, where you
play, where you worship or where you seek solace. Yes, your time is limited,
but so many of those who live the most fulfilled lives are the busiest!
Community is an important part of leading a full life.
Now comes the hard part. All of these things will take time to develop and
nurture, but do take that time. Frankly, research shows that those in their
twenties and thirties are much more savvy than my Boomer generation cohorts
were about carving time for what matters most to them.
“The wheel is come full circle,” wrote Shakespeare in King
Lear, a sobering study of the effect of aging on the powerful. So now is
the time to prepare before “the circle” closes too tightly and you have
no other interests but work itself.