Many years ago, I was having lunch with a very successful businessman. He had been successful at several different levels in his career, and I asked him what he thought the next stage might be. His answer really struck a chord: “I am looking for a replacement — someone I hope will eventually fire me.”
It was a shocking answer — after all, who wants to be fired? But he had chosen a dramatic way to speak a simple truth: It is easier to move forward if you are pushed.
Embrace the Risk If you think about it, you'll probably agree that it's human nature for people to seek a comfort zone and security in a job, even as a company owner. No one wants to risk the many positive things they have created by leaping to something new and leaving behind a void.
Still, over time, all of us pass through professional and personal stages and as a result, sometimes what we were doing yesterday is no longer as satisfying or fulfilling today. As our interests change, our jobs may become boring or our passion may sputter out.
For my lunch companion, changing interests meant changing directions. Being fired by his replacement was his way of ensuring that he was able to make the transition without giving up everything he had accomplished up to that point.
Keep Moving As I look back over a career in remodeling that spans 30 years, I find that I have moved through several stages. Originally, my passion was designing things. Gradually, my interest moved to serving the client. From there my focus shifted to building a team, then to my current dedication to growing a world-class remodeling organization. In conjunction with this last stage, I also find it fulfilling to give to others, not only within our company but also in the industry at large and in my community.
I share this brief history because, while I believe that it is natural for everyone to move through similar passages, I recognize that not everyone has the freedom to move from one stage to the next when their interests change. I have been able to follow my interests and keep my passion alive because, like my lunch companion, I spend a percentage of my time planning for it.
Take the Necessary Steps What does this mean to you?
The first step is to recognize that there is a next step for you, even though you may not yet know exactly what it is. Regardless of how your interests may shift, you can prepare by identifying an individual or a few people in your organization who you believe can someday do what you do. These are the future leaders of your company.
Next, let them know that you fully expect to be “fired” at some point in the future, and that they need to grow and be prepared for that transition.
Then begin to hold regular coaching sessions that start to move in that direction. I recommend a weekly session lasting 30 to 60 minutes. Although the timing for this transition is extremely important, don't be too concerned right now about setting an exact date. For one thing, you may still be having too much fun to want to change direction on a deadline. Plus, it is difficult to judge how long it will take to prepare your organization for the change. The process can take a long time — five years or more — so now is the time to begin. Even if you decide to continue in your present role, you and your key team members will improve as a result of the process.
—Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and author of “30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program.” 301.229.4600; firstname.lastname@example.org.