When it comes to letting go and letting someone else take the reins, can you do it? Do you do it? If so, do you do it well?
Given the work my company does, we regularly deal with transitions in leadership. Some of those transitions are smooth; others a bit bumpy. They key to a smooth transition is multi-faceted:
- You need the right person to step in or step up and take the reins
- You need an intentional transition plan
- You need an intentional communication plan, and
- You need to know when to let go
Letting go is especially hard when you've built the company from nothing. Letting go is hard when you created the reputation, relationships, and customer base the company supports, and letting go is hard when you've loved what you've done for so many years.
One couple I've spent a good deal of time with, a husband and wife team, have built a multi-million dollar business, have over 500 employees, and have had several family members join the business. Now as they plan the final stage of their retirement and exit from daily operations, they're not all that excited. Their anticipated exit isn't as stress-free as they'd hoped. They're not willing to let go just yet.
They're not willing to let go because the heir-apparent wants to grow the business into an entirely new industry; one they (the current owners) know nothing about. The up and coming leadership team wants to introduce new products and are suggesting eliminating some of the "old standards" that were the bread and butter of the company in its early years. And the new board of directors is suggesting ever more aggressive business strategies. Even though all of these items are in their strategic plan, how can they let go when everything they've built their company on and around seems to be changing?
They learn to let go when we circle back to confirm the plans we've created:
- Are they still confident in their heir-apparent? If so, why? If not, why not? How do we address that?
- Are they still in agreement with the transition plan - their gradual transition out while others take over their responsibilities? If so, why? If not, why not? How do we address that?
- Are they still in agreement with the communication plan - the plan to clarify for all employees, stakeholders, etc how and when the transitions will occur? If so, why? If not, why not? How do we address that?
- Are they still willing to let to? If so, why and what does that look like? If not, why not? How do we address that?
Letting go isn't easy, but letting go when and how a transition needs to occur is what great leaders do.