On January 1, 2011 roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers retired. From that point for the next nineteen years, approximately 10,000 persons of that large generation will retire every day. That massive shift from employment to post-employment is a sociological phenomenon that our nation has never known.
The Nature of the Retirement Preparation
For the past few years there has been an inundation of publications preparing Boomers for their inevitable retirement date. Most of the literature has focused on financial preparation: getting your 401(k) ready; saving at a sufficient pace; paying down debt; and working with retirement calculators. Some of the other publications tell Boomers how they might have a second career in retirement, and what opportunities are available.
In other words, most of the available material focuses on the Boomers themselves. The literature plays to the self-focused nature of this large generation. For certain, there’s nothing wrong with adequate financial and vocational preparation toward retirement.
How Great Leaders View Retirement
There is a small slice of the Boomer generation that will view retirement from a totally different perspective. They will not focus their preparation energies as much on themselves as the organizations they serve.
Jim Collins, in his classic treatise Good to Great, called these leaders “Level 5 Leaders.” These leaders have many admirable qualities such as intense drive and humility. But perhaps the true distinguishing characteristic of Level 5 Leaders is that they focus energies on the organization they lead and serve. While they do not necessarily neglect their own financial and vocational goals, their primary focus is on leaving the organization robust and healthy.
Six Ways Great Leaders Approach Retirement
These great leaders are truly other-centered. It is the nature of their humility. And that focus on someone or something other than themselves causes them to approach retirement asking six unique questions.
- What is the best timing for my retirement for the good of the organization? Their first question does not focus on their own financial needs. These leaders don’t look in the mirror to see if it’s time. They ask others if it is time. They do not want to stay one day past their maximum benefit to the organizations they lead and serve.
- Are there any difficult decisions that should be made before I retire? Level 5 Leaders do not want to leave the most difficult issues for their successors. They desire to pay the price now instead of doing those things that lead to the easiest path to retirement. They are courageous. They are sacrificial.
- Am I coasting? Great leaders abhor the thought of just getting by until they retire. They eschew short-term decisions that may benefit them but harm the organization in the long term. They are constantly asking others to evaluate their decisions to make certain they are not taking the easiest and most convenient path.
- Am I doing everything I can to leave the organization stronger than when I arrived? Obviously this question intersects with the previous two, but it is much broader. A person who is likely to retire in five years may make most of his decisions with a five-year horizon. A great leader makes decisions that are best for the organization regardless of the timetable.
- Do I need to build bridges? In the course of a career, people often burn bridges one or more times. Most of them move on, seeing such difficult moments as part of the natural course of a few decades of work. But great leaders seek to build bridges before they retire. They understand that one of the most valuable things they can do is to demonstrate forgiveness, humility, and remorse in relationships with others.
- Am I mentoring others for a better future? Mentoring can be time consuming and inconvenient. Great leaders understand that one of the greatest contributions they can make is to invest in the lives of others. The “payoff” typically does not happen during the career of the Level 5 leader, but years beyond it.
Admittedly, most people are not Level 5 Leaders. Most Boomers who are approaching retirement do not ask themselves these six questions. But admittedly, this world would be a much better place if more leaders looked after the interests of others before themselves.