How Much Gas is In Your Tank? Executive Transitions

Reaching a “Dead End,” or Planning to “Turn the Page”

In hosting an episode about informed end of life decision-making on my Internet radio show, “Turn the Page,” I was intrigued with the idea that how you die is an extension and reflection of how you live. My guest, Judy Schwarz, Ph.D., RN, emphasized that many of us do not plan for death, and yet establishing advanced medical directives and communicating your wishes to loved ones while you can, may prevent unnecessary hardship for both you and your community.

Many who think this way about their careers emerge feeling celebrated, glad for what’s been and what’s to come. They plan for their ending while there’s still gas left in their tanks, rather than trying to run on empty and diminishing their once prolific contributions. A physician who has been a part of a group practice for more than 20 years is a great example. He shifted from full to part-time work in the first month of the New Year, coinciding with the birth of his first grandchild. While he didn’t leave the practice altogether, his colleagues organized an end of year retirement party for him, commemorating a transition. Noting that this scenario contrasted with the deflating experience of his friend, who was “asked to leave,” he felt good about proactively acknowledging his own need for change. This illustration is intended to encourage an honest evaluation of compatibility based on role-environment characteristics and life stage rather than to imply bias around age.

Successful Endings

When coaching executives and entrepreneurs on transition plans, I start with a questionnaire that invites them to reflect on a vision for departing which maintains the integrity of their contributions to date. This includes realistically assessing what you can accomplish in your last stretch considering factors like buy-in/support from key individuals, your targeted legacy, financial, and other outcomes, and your staying power. An analysis like this informs agreement on an end date that facilitates the optimal exit ROI for you and your organization. It involves identifying your role at different markers of the transition, how the responsibilities of others will shift, and what resources are required to support the agreed upon plan. It also takes into account strategies for refueling since those final months can be more taxing than the preceding years combined!

Exit Planning Can Lead to New Entry Points Within Your Organization

Having served as a coach for corporate talent reassignment initiatives, I found that many employees were able to move into new internal roles and functional areas that at least fulfilled interim needs and at best advanced their careers. Similarly, some of my clients who anticipated exits instead renegotiated their positions to better align their work-life balance and development interests with the company’s growth opportunities. I’ve worked with other executives, who, after inventorying their current and anticipated priorities, realized that the best place for them was where they were. This refreshed perspective improved their work satisfaction, without calling for anything else!

Regardless of where you arrive, exit planning, like the travels of “The Alchemist,” leads you home by prompting, as author Paulo Coelho states, “the courage to confront your own dreams.”