Wilson2009blog How Successful Would Jay Leno Have Been If Johnny Carson Had Never Really Let Go?

I coach a lot of successful, powerful people as they prepare to retire from important positions like CEO, Managing Partner, Practice Leader and more.  There are important strategies and tactics to ensure a successful transition, including choosing a successor, documenting the clients, people, processes and duties that the successor will inherit and training the successor to ensure their readiness for their new role. 

More important than all of these, though, is the mental preparation of the retiring party and the development of their steely commitment to let go with grace. 

After all, retiring is hard.  For many, they picture mall walking, being under-foot at home, endless hours with grandchildren (which for some sounds heavenly, while others are not as amused), and a life that has less meaning.  Sadly, these stereotypical images of retirement haunt many that I encounter and their fears of living a life-less-useful keep them from preparing for retirement properly, setting up their successors for true and lasting success, and ultimately jeopardizing their long-term legacy because they don’t ensure the perpetuation of their organization without them.

Letting go is hard.  Retirees must face the “death” of their career and pass through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s (http://tinyurl.com/7pahq) five stages of grief including denial (where many get stuck and never progress), anger, bargaining, depression or sadness and finally, acceptance.   Most retirees do not want to admit their fears, feelings of vulnerability or their sadness at the loss of their work identity.  As a result, they hang on well past the point of what’s best for their successor, their organization or themselves.

One of the best ways to combat the fears of retirement is to ensure that they don’t come true.  If you’re facing retirement, you can create and then cause an exciting new possibility for your life after work that can include travel, golf or other exercise, volunteer work, a new unrelated vocation, going to school, reading all the books you’ve had to pass up, catching up on movies, researching topics or hobbies you’ve wanted to learn, having leisurely lunch with friends and family and more.  Life after “the old job” can be exciting, fulfilling and transformative.  You can continue to learn, contribute and grow after retirement.  The decision is entirely yours.

I’ve been bothered by the Leno-O’Brien story (http://tinyurl.com/yjf97lm).  This is mostly because I keep encountering equally-harmful iterations of this story in firms across America.  On occasion, I plan to write about strategies to help retirees let go with grace in this blog.  In the meantime, if you have some ideas or experiences on this subject, please post them so others can benefit.   We’re all ears!