The #1Failure of Retiring CEO’s

The #1 Failure of Retiring CEO’s

Do you know Jack?

Jack is a recently-retired-highly-successful-former-CEO of a Fortune 500 Company.

Like most smart leaders, Jack planned ahead to ensure he would leave his company in good hands, and carefully chose and groomed his successor years before his retirement party.

At the top of his game, he was a competitive typical Type A high achiever who was respected by many (and feared by some).  Before he retired, his wife described him as a “workaholic.”  Now she says he has too much time on his hands and six months into his retirement, he is “driving her nuts.”  To make matters worse, the kids are making rude comments under their breath, “Mom, there’s a grumpy stranger living in our house!” In other words, Jack’s now become a bit of a pain in the a**.  He’s gone from “Hero to Zero” in his own castle.  And Jack can only play so many rounds of golf (or tennis) before it’s just not as much fun anymore.

Fast forward, a few more months into retirement:  Jack now feels restless, dissatisfied and somewhat useless.  His family doesn’t “snap to attention” like his employees did when he walked into the room.  In fact, they often disappear. To make matters worse, Jack’s wife has her own interests – without him.  She spends time with her friends, enjoys her part time job at the hospital and has recently taken up scuba diving.  Jack is also notices they snap at each other more, short conversations are sprinkled with biting sarcasm and now they occasionally argue loudly in front of the kids.

Jack thinks to himself, “If this is what retirement is like, I’d rather be back at work!”

The problem:  While Jack responsibly prepared his company for his exit, Jack failed to prepare himself, and his family, for his re-entrance.  Jack’s wife was right. He was a workaholic … and for a good reason: Human nature.  Jack spent much more time at work because with his title came a strong identity, a purpose and a sense of accomplishment (and a big paycheck).  Whether he spent less time at home because he didn’t feel as accomplished and purposeful as a father or husband as he did being a CEO, or the other way around, who knows?  It doesn’t matter what came first, the chicken or the egg.

Jack wasn’t a bad father or neglectful husband.  He was still an ordinary man, just human.  Because, as “just humans” we will naturally spend more time doing what is familiar and what makes us feel good, than where we don’t feel as rewarded.  Gradually, we spend more and more time at work and less and less time at home.  To compound the problem, we naturally prefer to avoid the discomfort or conflict we are having at home, actual or perceived, and spend more time where we feel more satisfied.  Unfortunately, Jack sees evidence which only supports his “theory” that “they (i.e., Jack’s family) don’t give me respect.”

The solution:  Become the CEO of YOU before retirement.  Jack’s transition back into family life would have been much more successful and satisfying had he started his Personal Transition Plan at the same time he started his succession plan.  Had he done so, Jack (and his family) would have found the re-entry to be much smoother.

If you are like Jack, what hobbies, interests or “someday goals” can you begin explore, cultivate or even take action on now that can be in full swing by the time you officially retire?  What are you willing to do now to build (or repair) relationships with your spouse or your almost-grown-kids so you aren’t “the grumpy stranger in the house?”

Here’s my challenge to you now:  Prepare yourself for how you will answer the question: “What do you do?” after you are retired.  Will you be able to answer with ease and confidence … even though you are without a title or a job? Hint:  If you can answer the question: Who are you?  you will have this one in the bag!

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About the Author Christina

Christina Haxton is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of The Center for Sustainable Strategies, a business strategy & executive advisory company, assisting technology and life science entrepreneurs, business owners & CEOs to build a strong, purpose-driven company, achieve sustainable growth & avoid burnout. Contact Christina at (970) 387-8935 or to inquire about speaking, training, coaching and consulting solutions for yourself or your company.

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Leave a Comment:

Ben Simonton (@BenSimonton) says July 29, 2012

Good points Christina.

From what I have seen, there is another possibility. Jack used the standards top-down command and control approach to managing people. Since he spent so little time at home with his family, his family was not subjected to that approach until he retired and was around them many more hours per day. Top-down tends to demotivate and demoralize employees, but to accept this fate silently for fear of their jobs. At home with family is different. Family members just don’t put up with it.

Jack should have shown a lot more respect and love for his employees thus greatly increasing their productivity and engagement. And in so doing, he would have learned how to treat his family with real love, not autocracy.

I must admit to having gone through this process in my own search for how to better lead my employees to excellence and fully engagement. Fortunately for my family, I was away a lot while I was still a top-down manager so they did not have to experience my autocratic side. I learned a lot about treating people with love from my wife.

Sharon says July 30, 2012


I’d like to offer you an alternative (and real) retirement plan. My daughters soccer coach is a remarkable man – and it didn’t surprise me to learn that he had recently semi retired from the organization he built. Instead of training a successor he coached he senior team to take on more and more responsibility for themselves. Encouraging and fostering their leadership skills and ability to work as a team. He has gradually made himself less and less available while transferring responsibly to those of his leadership team that earned his trust and respect. At the same time he increased his involvement in his passion – soccer coaching, Took on a leadership role within our local club, began the process of earning a high level coaching certification, dedicated himself to improving the skills of his daughters soccer team.

Instead of preparing for a shift he has orchestrated that switch gradually – he still has a hand in with his organization, still encourages and builds talent but is relieved of the day to day stress and workload. At the same time he is able to dedicate more and more time to his family – but not as the “boss”. His relationships are stronger, his company is stronger, he is very actively involved in something he feels passionate about and his self worth is higher than ever before.

Sadly this strategy is rarely available to high control style CEOs – learning to let go of control and lead through motivation, coaching, boundaries, vision and direction – would be a great place to start.

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