What Next After CEO? When Retiring Isn’t An Option (as featured in CEO Today)

May 6th, 2022

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One result of the pandemic is that CEOs, business founders and owners in their 50s and 60s are having their own ‘great resignation’ moment. However, unlike those in the early or mid-point of their careers, the ‘what next’ question isn’t so easy to answer.

Early in our careers, we make choices based on necessities, such as salary increases and career progression. It is less about what we want next, and more about what we need next. Once we have reached the top end of our career ladder we are more conscious of the decisions we make. For most, the mindset switches from being willing to dedicate the waking hours to climbing the ladder, to wanting to do something that gives life more meaning and puts the emphasis on having more time for doing things that bring happiness.

The questions that almost all of the senior executives in their 50s and 60s that I work with are actually asking are; ‘what do I want to do next if I don’t want to fully retire?’; ‘how can I find meaning towards the end of my career?’ and; ‘how do I make sure I make the right choices?’


Planning ahead for a non-retirement

Many successful business leaders are ‘high achievers’ who are so focused on success that everything they do is driven by constantly achieving one goal and setting another. Their happiness comes not from undertaking the task to achieve success, but in the achievement itself – and rarely do they celebrate or acknowledge what they have achieved.

Whilst this is a trait that creates success, it also means that when you just stop, you can feel that your life lacks meaning as often our identity is closely aligned with our work.  This is why it is important to start planning for a ‘non-retirement’ at least 3 years in advance. Doing so gives you the chance to build a strategy for your own ‘exit plan’ by having a clear understanding of where you are going and what you want your life to look like.

Once you have a plan you can start slowly positioning yourself so that change doesn’t happen suddenly and come as a shock. It also means you can know what you need to be putting in place to enable you to feel ready to step away bit by bit. That could be re-skilling the team around you to take on more of your work and commence succession planning, but also reskilling yourself to do something different. It is also a good time to start sowing the seeds for non-executive work and chairperson roles.

It is important not to leave the planning too late because the people who have a plan in place usually get their next move right, but those who don’t often struggle and can experience a sense of loss with no real purpose.


Knowing your intrinsic motivations

Do you know what your intrinsic motivations are? Have you lost sight of your purpose?

I spend a lot of time talking to clients nearing retirement about what really makes them happy and use specific tools that help them to clarify and measure their motivation and find their purpose.

Richard Leider, author of The Good Life Inventory, believes that we should make sure as many aspects of our lives as possible are set up to meet our own intrinsic motivations. His formula for the Good Life is:

  • Living in the Place you love,
  • With the People you love,
  • Doing the Right Work,
  • On Purpose.

It is common for us to lose sight of these key factors as we build successful businesses. When it comes to thinking about winding down towards the end of our careers, that is the perfect time to reassess where we sit against each element and make changes to fulfil each criteria.

For many, this means reconnecting with aspects of their lives they have lost touch with. For one client recently it meant finding a way to move back to Italy where she grew up to be closer to her family. For another it meant focusing the next two years spending time with his two daughters before they left home to go to boarding school and university – he recognised he could not get this time back. For another it meant creating time to dedicate to a sporting passion and get involved in mentoring and coaching.

To work out what is important to you, what makes you happy and how you find contentment from ‘working but not working’, you need to take time out from your busy life and ask yourself big questions that really move you emotionally and challenge you. Give yourself the freedom to think big and dream. It can help to do your own personal ‘away day’ in an environment where there is nature and space. Do this with someone you trust to ask provocative questions that will unlock your creativity so you find clarity in what a contented life means for you and who can help create a plan to move you forward.


Don’t think of it as retirement

The notion of retirement is in itself a slightly dated concept and it comes with some strong negative connotations. Whilst the saying ‘60 is the new 40’ is something of a cliché, the fact is that the last thing that many successful business leaders want to do when they reach their 60s is contemplate three decades of killing time. The high achiever in us wants to keep achieving and that needs to be balanced with a change in priorities, a greater understanding of our purpose and knowing what will genuinely make us happy.

Rather labelling the step after CEO as ‘retirement’, we need to be viewing it as realigning our life and creating an exciting new chapter of work that doesn’t always have to feel like work.

What will your exciting new chapter be?


Published on CEO Today on 27th April 2022.  Read the original article here.