When I was 16 years old, I didn’t learn to drive stick shift from my father. Although I knew my father could drive a manual transmission, it was one of my friends whom I asked to teach me, whom I knew wouldn’t get upset with me for grinding the gears at first or increase the pressure with what is already a stressful experience and can be a difficult skill to learn. When I consider the many family businesses I have supported as an executive coach and family advisor over the years, it’s no different!
Successful Baby Boomer business owners don’t achieve their success simply by teaching others what to do. They achieve that success by being driven, results-oriented leaders striving to accomplish more than those before them. This strong character trait, however, often presents itself through a more dominant and autocratic leadership style – one that may work for the chief executive of a family business or the principal of a family office, but likely doesn’t work as well when you want to groom your next generation child to assume huge responsibilities as your successor. This is very likely why I’m regularly hired by NextGen children to facilitate their transitions rather than the Baby Boomers themselves.
One of the other key challenges with the father/son relationship is the long history these individuals have together. While I may have learned to drive stick shift from my friend, that doesn’t mean I was a responsible teenage driver. I earned at least a couple speeding tickets in my first year of driving, and even got into a couple minor fender benders. Now imagine if my father ran a multi-generation family business and allowed me to work for him. How do you think he would feel about his somewhat irresponsible and overly adventurous son taking the reins? My guess is he wouldn’t have given me the keys to the kingdom before I could demonstrate I had matured – and rightfully so!
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.