Chuck Lauer: 7 things CEOs should ponder before moving on

Too often, top healthcare leaders decide that enough is enough and they want to move on, either to new challenges or retirement.

They may be fed up with the business challenges posed by reform, or they may have issues with the board. Or, the lure of a severance package or a higher profile post (and a bigger paycheck) proves too much to resist. I have commented before on the high rate of turnover in the C-suite, but there is another concern: Many leaders fail to leave in a manner that protects the organization and leaves their legacies intact.
 
Below I list some of the things that an executive should consider as their time with an organization appears to be coming to a conclusion. All do not apply to everyone, but they serve as a guide for how to conduct yourself when retiring, leaving under duress, or simply moving on for business or personal reasons. Obviously, if you are fired, with one of those cleverly worded press releases that leave no doubt as to what happened, little of what follows applies.
 
1. Do not let your ego take over. No matter what the circumstances, leave with positive comments about your colleagues, the board and the organization, even if you feel you have been treated unfairly. Healthcare is a small universe, and people have long memories. Leave on a positive note.
 
2. Whenever possible, be straight about your reasons for leaving. If it really is to spend more time with your family, say so in as specific and clear a manner as possible, including anecdotes, so there are no inaccurate rumors about "the real reason." If you are leaving under less than ideal conditions, simply say new challenges await, and you have fond memories of what was accomplished during your tenure. If you are simply leaving for a different job, say that as great as the old post was, you are simply taking an opportunity you couldn't pass up.
 
3. If you are at a place where you have run out of challenges, wait until you have left to start exploring the possibility of running another organization. Presumably you will be on financially good terms, so don't take your eye off the ball while you explore new opportunities. Believe me, people in the organization will know you are drifting.
 
4. If you are retiring, announce it publicly well before your last day so the organization has time to at least begin the search process. Many forward-looking execs I know announce at least a year early so their successors are already set to join or are in place by the time they leave. Make sure when you leave a company you leave matters in order and completed to the best of your ability.
 
5. When you retire, move on and don't look back. Too many executives have a tough time when it comes to leaving. They hang around in some kind of emeritus role, hoping that somehow they can regain some of the luster of years gone by. It will not happen, believe me! People will look upon you in a much different light, and some people you thought were your friends will disappear. It is best to make a clean break.
 
6. By retire, I don't mean just hone your golf game, waiting for the cocktail hour. Keep engaged, either in a volunteer role or as a board member or adviser to nonprofits or startups. Your brain is an essential organ. Without something meaningful to occupy it, it withers away.
 
7. Make sure your admin or assistant who has been with you for so long is well taken care of. It should be one of the first things you do. He or she has been with you through thick and thin and is probably very sad you have chosen to leave the company. This old ally may also be vulnerable under new leadership.
             
All of the things I have cited above may seem to be rather simple, but are often ignored. There are a lot surprises ahead for many execs who leave, and some of them are bound to be challenging.
 
It takes great courage to push forward with such a profound life change, and some executives never really manage to do so, spending too much of their time preoccupied with old memories instead of looking forward to new adventures.
 
There are many stories of healthcare execs who have failed at one place and been successful in another organization. I know some former CEOs who love their new roles of mentor, adviser and trustee.
 
Whatever you do next, remember that your manner of departure as a senior leader speaks volumes about your character and influences how people view your legacy.  

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