“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 to go.”
That comment by Richard Stein, an executive recruiter in New York, should be handed out to all newly minted MBAs along with their diplomas. On the one hand this is good news: it means that there’s room for new graduates at the top. But it’s also a warning to those up-and-comers that time flies.
In a New York Times article last year (“Easing Out the Gray-Haired. Or not”), writer Nelson Schwartz quoted Stein as well as other leaders in law and financial services firms. Schwartz 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 little while longer.
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Such reluctance to exit is understandable. Many senior leaders define themselves by their jobs, and they’ve grown accustomed to the perks that come with it. But the corporate jet isn’t what they’ll miss the most when they leave. People in power miss being in power. No longer will colleagues immediately return their phone calls; no longer will employees stop them in the halls to ask their advice. By retiring, these executives 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 team in his last year at the top. But that’s false. You begin to create your legacy your first day on the job – and you build on it with every accomplishment. (You also scuff up that legacy with the mistakes you make.)
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 their jobs at the expense of their families. They’ve also pushed aside hobbies and pursuits that might be sources of enrichment to them in retirement. 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, is to develop the other parts of their lives sooner rather than later. Don’t wait until retirement. Then it’ll be too late. Here are some suggestions to help you broaden your efforts to have a life beyond work:
Nurture close relationships: For most of us, family is what really matters. Be certain you spend time with those whom love you most. There will be years when you’re not as available as you may like, but never skimp on what you can do when you can. And, of course, don’t forget your friends.
Find a passion outside 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 just as much. But find that hobby and invest in it, whether it’s golf, swing dancing or community theatre. Just find something else that is a source of enrichment in your life – and make time for it.
Give of yourself: Find a way to give to your community. This community can be whatever you want it to be – where you live, where you play, where you worship, where you seek solace. Yes, your time is limited, but it’s often true that the people who lead the busiest lives are the most fulfilled. And community is an important part of leading that kind of life.
Now comes the hard part. All of these things will take time to develop and nurture, but do take that time. Research shows that those in their 20s and 30s are much savvier than my Boomer generation peers were about carving out time for what matters most to them.
Figure out how to do that now – before you wake up one day and realise you have no other interests besides work itself.
John Baldoni is an internationally recognised leadership development consultant, executive coach, author and speaker. His latest book is ‘Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up’.