Please Lead Responsibly

When you hear the term “leadership development” what comes to mind? Who comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you think of leadership development as about the people coming up behind you. People younger than you, or less experienced. The next generation, you might say. And they’re certainly a big part of the equation. But when it comes to succession and development, everybody’s got a job to do, including the senior generation. 

When we talk about leadership, we tend to use phrases like “step up,” “lean in,” and “take the reins.” We create visuals and models with ascending levels and platforms. Onward and upward. 

So is it any wonder that we don’t have a name for a leader’s work of stepping down, leaning out and letting go? “Retirement” is a misnomer; “succession” is too broad. Neither of those terms come close to describing what is often a challenging personal journey. So let’s make this simple. Let’s call the senior leader’s process “leadership development,” too. 

The thing about leadership development is that it doesn’t happen on its own. It’s intentional and deliberate, and takes place over time. So how does this play out for someone who’s preparing to step back? Below are some distinct shifts that we’ve observed. 

• From Leader to Architect – A shift from “driving the car” to “building the roads”

• From Teacher to Coach – A shift away from the teacher and toward the student

• From Owner to Elder – A shift from active involvement to active wisdom

• From Doing to Being – A shift to new callings and ways of making contributions

We’re so used to an Onward Ho view of leadership that we’ve forgotten something very important:  Going down stairs can take as much muscle as climbing up. Framed in this way, some challenge-oriented leaders are relieved to know they still have work to do!

If you’re an incumbent leader, the successful transition of your business depends on you. It’s your call as to how and when to step back, pass it on and move forward. But whatever path you choose, be deliberate about your own development. That’s the essence of responsible leadership.



Leave a Reply