You’ve spent the last 30, 40 or maybe 50 years trying to be the best you can be. Maybe the best in your space. So how do you give that all up, take a second seat to your successor, and embrace that thing called “retirement”? For many, this transition in leadership can be an incredibly emotional process and perhaps the hardest thing they’ve ever done professionally. When done well though, it could also be the most important and impactful!
As long as you’ve worked in your organization, your colleagues have likely looked up to you for your wisdom and sage advice. They’ve also likely expected you to accept even greater responsibility to lead your business functions or perhaps grow the company through successful business development and customer relationships. There comes a time in everyone’s career though when it’s more appropriate to look to the next generation to step up rather than dig in and push harder to achieve even more.
If you’re starting to consider how much longer you want to work and what you might do next if you retire, you’ve clearly earned the right to step back and prioritize your life differently moving forward. Lord knows you’re not alone as many Baby Boomers are choosing not to work as much after what we’ve all been through this past year. It’s not about making more money or achieving new professional accolades anymore. It’s about prioritizing what matters most in life while also securing your legacy and ensuring the organization continues long after you’re gone.
Founders and entrepreneurs can be very successful starting their businesses, but scaling them often requires the support of other professionals. Why would a company need support with their C-Suite? Are business owners and CEOs not capable of making decisions and leading the business on their own? What does engaging a professional CEO, COO, CFO, or other C-Suite executive (CXO) really do? While many business owners and CEOs can make the tactical decisions about the business today, they often need to engage outside professionals to drive future growth and take their companies to the next level.
Professional CXOs bring a wealth of knowledge, experience, training, and education that current company leaders may not have. The job of these executives is to strategically partner with the founder, owner, or other business leader to accelerate the growth of the business and increase enterprise value.
CXOs may get involved in all aspects of the business as they analyze a company’s core processes, identify any weaknesses or potential areas of improvement, define key performance indicators, create detailed forecasts, manage cash flow and possible funding needs, and so on. CXOs can also monitor employee performance and morale as they consider different organization designs and overall business models for a company to maximize its longer-term growth potential. Most importantly, good CXOs work with business owners to develop strategic plans that drive operational and financial strength and accelerate a company’s growth. The CXO’s role is as both guardian and champion of business value.
Let’s look at two common – and critical – executive positions you may need to consider: Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer.
Chief Financial Officer The Chief Financial Officer is much more than an accountant, bookkeeper, or controller. CFOs are strategic partners for their owners/CEOs. CFOs sit at the highest level of the financial management pyramid and oversee all the company’s financial functions. They regularly get involved in other aspects of the business too.
Good CFOs are strategically focused on the big picture and the future, with the short and long-term goals of the company in mind. They analyze the company’s processes, define and monitor critical KPIs, identify weaknesses and potential areas of improvement, create detailed forecasts, manage cash flow, and manage any funding needs. Good CFOs also assess the company’s business model to maximize growth potential. CFOs work with their business owners and CEOs to develop overall financial strategies for their companies. They develop comprehensive strategic plans to accelerate and effectively manage growth based on the company’s goals as well.
Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle clearly demonstrates what happens when a family narrative starts to break. A prominent next-generation family member marries outside the “establishment”. Soon, the values underpinning the whole family are questioned. Relationships fracture between siblings and with parents. The Royal Family’s central story – which has lasted for centuries – suddenly seems very shaky.
Most families don’t have anything like that level of scrutiny or history, but a shared narrative is still the thing that holds them together. A strong story increases the chances of future success. A weak or vague story heightens the risks to wealth and unity.
Families can derive great meaning from their stories. They can forge trust with one another – and across generations – by exploring their shared history. They can find purpose in the present by building on their collective experiences in the past while also clarifying their vision for their future. When they don’t, factions can develop and create great chasms within and across generations.
This situation exists because families tend to get bigger and more complex over time. New members arrive by marriage and birth, and differing opinions and even competing values and priorities can develop. Successful families tend to amass greater wealth and assets over time too. Thus, stewardship of the family’s estate gets more complicated and new structures like family offices and family foundations are created to preserve and manage the family’s assets.
The Family Charter (or “Family Constitution”) is often used as a written guide to help family members navigate this complexity. The Charter acts as a statement of the family’s heritage, culture, hopes, and aspirations for the future. The Charter usually details the following principles for governing the family:
It may be a new year, but we’re still facing many of the same challenges. Much of our workforce is still at home balancing caring for young children and virtual learning. Those who are working in person are wrestling with the reality of keeping physically distanced from their co-workers while worrying about staying healthy.
Exacerbating these COVID conditions, many businesses now exist within a volatile and uncertain world. Will demand for our products and services continue to exist? How will pricing change? How long will supply chain issues continue to impact us? What services will be in demand? On the people side, how do we keep employees engaged to meet these changing demands? How do we help employees evolve and succeed?
With questions like these keeping us up at night, how do we lead in these challenging times? The following six leadership actions can provide direction and focus for forward progress.
Be present with your emotions – If we want our teams to deliver exceptional performance, then we need to begin by managing our own emotional reactions to this uncharted territory. This doesn’t mean pretending nothing has changed or glossing over the challenges. We need to acknowledge our fears and anxieties about the uncertainty around us, and in doing so acknowledge everyone else’s concerns too.
Did you make a New Year’s Resolution this year? Or maybe you strategically set goals for your company to achieve. Surprisingly, most people and most organizations do not actually set their strategic intentions at the beginning of the year. When they do, they often are simple statements like “I’m going to get in shape” or “We want to grow our business.”
These are great ideas, but they aren’t very well-articulated goals. If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there? Other than tremendous luck or good fortune, you aren’t likely to achieve your true potential without setting very clear and specific goals. That’s why we always say that identifying your “lighthouse” is absolutely essential to achieving your personal and professional objectives.
Being committed to one’s own success can deliver powerful results. That’s because our intentions serve as guardrails to keep us focused on our ideal outcomes. Intentions also drive our near-term actions and keep us moving – one foot in front of the other, one day at a time – even during these challenging and uncertain times. Without well-defined lighthouse goals and a crystal-clear Vision for what matters most to us, we can easily be distracted by new opportunities that take us off course. We can also run out of energy without the clarity to keep pushing on.
These are uncertain times to say the least. For those who still have jobs, most are working from home. Those who are in essential positions may be working at their company’s worksites with heightened concern for their health and wellness. As long as this Coronavirus crisis continues and these “safer at home” guidelines are in place, we all are living with much more anxiety and stress than usual – without our usual outlets to rest and recharge.
Whose job is it then to keep your team members calm, composed, and focused? I’ve considered new titles like “Chief Engagement Officer” for all the CEOs out there, but the reality is that some CEOs aren’t comfortable or capable playing this vital role. So who is it in your organization? A Business Unit leader? Another senior executive? Maybe your head of HR? Someone needs to assume the position of “Chief Communication Officer” right now if your company is going to be productive and survive this crisis.
I’m not going to let CEOs off the hook just yet though for not being positive role models and engaging their employees directly. Business owners and Presidents/CEOs need to step up during this crisis. Your people need to hear from YOU right now. Not just their direct supervisors or middle-level managers. YOU! Nobody can generate the same positive energy and enthusiasm or settle a workforce like the owner/CEO of a business. More importantly, most of your next-level leaders are less than effective in cascading information from higher-level leadership in the best of times. It’s unreasonable – and quite frankly, unfair – to expect more from them now given everybody’s heightened emotions and anxiety. No matter how good they are, wouldn’t you agree that they aren’t Chief Communication Officer caliber?
I recently led a Leadership Team offsite to review last year’s strategic objectives for this growing organization and set new goals for the year ahead. One might think that the entire focus of this two-day event would be calibrating everyone’s efforts for continued growth. While that clearly was our context and guiding intention, how we got there was less of a direct path.
Fortunately for this organization and the many customers it serves, each of the business owners believes in team development and creating camaraderie to inspire greater performance from their leaders. As a result, our two-day schedule was not nearly as packed as it could have been. Instead, we took much of the first afternoon to go kart racing. And by kart racing, I mean experiencing one of the greatest racetracks ever built at Road America, one of the greatest race courses in the United States.
Family businesses are perhaps the most complex organizations combining two different and potentially conflicting value systems – the family and the business. Very few family business leaders successfully implement a “both/and” approach to managing this inherent overlap between their family and their business to effectively prioritize both at the same time. Neither is right nor wrong per se, and both very clearly serve a purpose. The question then for any family business owner is whether or not you prioritize the family or the business. Or do you do both?
As summer quickly comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the many different leaders I have the privilege of coaching these days. One of whom actually took an extended 4-week vacation this summer, and another who worked her way through a shorter 1-week family trip to Hawaii.
Let’s be clear. I am not judging either of these otherwise very busy and successful results-oriented executives. One for leaving his team to their own devices for an entire month. One for not getting the quality get-away with her family that she had expected. I’m simply recognizing the value of getting away for some good old-fashioned R&R from time to time. The physical and emotional break from work not only gives our bodies the rest they need but also gives our minds the fresh perspective to contribute when we return to work.