By Michael Gunther

I was in the hospital room of my 86-year-old mother a few weeks ago, assisting and watching over her through recovery from surgery. It’s strange to feed your mom breakfast as if you were feeding a child. Here is the woman who raised you, who guided and nurtured you, but now the roles are being reversed. I realize it’s part of the transition of life. It saddens me, but at the same time endears me to her even more.

Caring for her in that childlike state must be what a parent feels towards a child–the immense love and compassion, the ping in your heart at their frailty. I wanted to take care of her and protect her even more.

I wonder what it’s like to be on the receiving end of this care. She was once a strong and active woman, bearing and raising 17 children, taking care of them through all the trials and tribulations of their youth well into their adulthood. How vulnerable one must feel to finally let go and allow those that you once cared for to begin taking care of you. Isn’t one of the greatest acts of love not only giving of yourself to others, but being open to receiving similar actions by those you love?

I continue to learn from my mom, even at age 46. Watching her accept her limitations and allowing me to assist her in this next phase of her life makes me realize the connection between my mom’s life transition and the transition of a business owner. There is a period in every business owner’s life when it comes time for them to step aside and let the next generation begin to drive the growth of the organization.

Over the past year we worked with many business owners who wanted to transition their role within their business–whether shifting that role to their management team or selling to key employees or an outside third party. These owners spent many years building and growing their businesses, creating entities that fulfilled them both intrinsically and extrinsically. Their customers and employees became a part of their family, but the time came to move on to their next phase of their lives.

This may sound like a welcomed change of pace, but for many individuals this transition is incredibly difficult. They have to learn to let go and allow others to start making the decisions and assuming the roles they had always managed. They must begin to take a step back, which can be scary because they spent so much of their lives leading the pack.

One way to approach this process is for these individuals to identify what they will do with their newfound time. What activities, hobbies, new ventures, etc. do they want to explore? In addition, these individuals can define a business advisory role within their organization and continue to contribute their wisdom, experience and knowledge to the new leaders or owners. Most importantly, they must be willing to accept this new stage of their career and their business. Otherwise, as we have seen, many individuals attempt to control more and more of the organization, this eventually can strangle the growth of the business, and even cause the departure of key personnel.

The Bottom Line

Businesses, just like life, are full of transitions. Strong leaders recognize this fact and develop solid succession plans and exit strategies for themselves and their organizations. The more one can accept their current stage and be open to the adjustment of roles, the stronger the individual, the organization and the team will become.

On a side note: My mom is doing great and getting ready to continue crossing things off her ‘bucket list.’

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