Is there life after leadership for departing CEOs?

Life after triumph

Departing CEOs must face a crushing sense of: “Now what?” Fortunately, the world holds plenty of opportunities for leaders with the skills that made them successful in business.

By Chris Wright

When you have lived and breathed a job night and day for years, the post-job anticlimax can be quite daunting. So what can business leaders learn from people who have had to deal with the challenge of finding meaning and direction in life after its apparent high point has been and gone?

“He developed a talk on the disaster, which he has now delivered 2000 times.” Captain Al Haynes, pilot of United Airlines flight 232, helped 185 people survive its fiery crash.

Five lessons for departing leaders

Talk, don’t bury

People who leave in difficult circumstances can still build on that ordeal.

Captain Al Haynes was the pilot on United Airlines Flight 232, which crashed in Sioux City in 1989 after engine failure. Although 111 people died in the fiery accident, 185 survived due to the actions of the crew. He developed a talk on the disaster, which he has now delivered 2000 times. The chief flight attendant, Jan Brown, has devoted the rest of her life to changing aircraft regulations for the safety of infants.

Similarly, journalist and former Lebanon hostage, John McCarthy, now leads his professional field in the Middle East, partly because of the unique understanding of the region he gained during his captivity there.

You can change direction while drawing on what you knew before

The pilot on the Apollo 12 space mission, Alan Bean, walked on the moon before deciding to follow his true passion: art. There’s only one subject he painted for the next 40 years, however: astronauts on the surface of the moon.

You can take a totally different path and be happy

Ray Wilson was a member of the 1966 World Cup-winning England football side. Every other member of that team is a household name in England, but not Ray. He turned his back on the game and became an undertaker in Yorkshire. He and his wife are perfectly happy and haven’t missed the limelight once.

You don’t need to rest on your laurels to be successful

Bill Anders was a member of the Apollo 8 crew – the first to travel to the moon and to see the Earth in its entirety. He spent most of his later life, however, slightly irritated about that notoriety, and today he would much rather people remember his subsequent exceptional career at General Dynamics, where he was a remarkable turnaround CEO. To him, that’s the much greater achievement – far from trading on his Apollo mission history, he’drather ignore it.

Helping others overtake you can be rewarding

In 1960, Joe Kittinger jumped from the edge of the atmosphere, setting a skydiving record that stood for 52 years. When it was finally broken in 2012, by base jumper Felix Baumgartner, it only happened because of Kittinger’s considerable assistance. He was capsule communicator (on the other end of the radio) and mentor for Baumgartner’s jump. Being part of a mission, even one that dropped him a rung in the record books, gave him an enormous sense of wellbeing.

“Being part of a mission, even one that dropped him a rung on the record books, gave Kittinger an enormous sense of wellbeing.”

Edited extract from No More Worlds to Conquer: Sixteen people who defined their time – and what they did next by Chris Wright. 

This article is from the October issue of INTHEBLACK

October 2015
October 2015

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