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Getting Ready to Retire
May 2, 2011
Written By: Michelle Clark, Ph.D.

This month I’ve worked with a number of family-owned businesses on succession planning. A significant focus has been on retirement. It’s not an easy topic, but in my experience, succession goes more smoothly when there has been deliberate, careful thought given to how you approach your retirement.
At every stage of life we have prepare for the next step. In high school, part of your “job” was to prepare for college. In college, part of your “job” was to prepare for the world of work. In a career, part of the focus is on preparing for the next “job.” Yet, somehow, we often have the expectation that financial preparation for retirement is all that is needed. Retirement, too, calls for a period of exploration, examination and preparation.
Or more simply: those who are most successful in retirement have:
1.     A sense of meaning and purpose in retirement.
2.     A strong spousal relationship that can adjust to change.
3.     Planned a gradual transition.
4.     Good health.
Conversely, those who struggle with retirement typically are:
1.     Defined by their job.
2.     In a spousal relationship that has rigid role definition.
3.     Dealing with an abrupt transition from work to complete retirement.
4.     Facing failing health.
So which retiring executive will you be?  How will you get there?  What does a successful retirement plan look like?  Planning actually starts earlier than you might expect.
In your 50s:
This is likely the stage when your children are gone and family demands decrease.  Find a non-profit with a mission that engages you and get involved in civic activities in a manner you didn’t have time for in your 40s.
If you are married, this also may be a time to reconnect with your spouse. With children out of the house, now is the time to redefine your relationship as a solo partnership. Work on rebuilding intimacy and interdependence that may have slipped way.
Manage your health. The choices you make now will have a major impact on your ability to enjoy retirement. Join a gym, walk with your spouse or learn to cook.
Build your leadership team. Growth and development of your successors doesn’t occur in 12 months. The time is now to build bench strength, create development opportunities, give the team an opportunity for solo responsibilities, and move out the people who are not suited for leadership.
In your late 50s/early 60s:
Begin trying out retirement. If you have done your homework with the next generation, they are ready to lead without daily oversight. What would it be like to modify your work schedule? Are there major time intensive tasks that you can hand off? How can you switch from “doer” to “coach”?
Try out retirement with your spouse! Use your adjusted schedule to take extended times away. Learn from each other what works and is challenging about this freedom. Use this time to strengthen your relationship and plan for your future together.
Stay fit.
Continue to search for ways to contribute outside of your specific work role, either for pay or no pay. Serve as a mentor or consultant to promising emerging leaders, find passion in the mission of the non-profits you support, connect with adult children.
Accept that change and transition brings with it some losses. Prepare in advance for the changes that may be the most difficult for you. One of the signs that you are in transition is that today is measured against the past. As you move successfully through transition, today will be framed with a focus on the future.
Seek out connection with others who are going through a similar transition. This is not the time to isolate.
If you had children who went to high school and then college, you practiced the art of supportive disengagement. You learned to let the child make his/her own decisions even when you disagreed. The same will be true for your business. There will be moments when watching others make choices you disagree with is challenging. Commit to coping with that challenge productively.
What do you need to do to be ready for retirement?

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