Leslie Braksick, a Pittsburgh-based executive coach and psychologist, spent more than two decades working with senior leaders at Fortune 1000 companies. Over that time, the pressures on them increased significantly, with greater stress and reduced time for hobbies and family. They also lost control of their career's conclusion: In the past, executives usually chose when to retire; these days, they get bumped out prematurely and find themselves at a loss for what do as an encore.
The result was increased calls to her from past clients, appealing for her counsel. There was nobody she knew to refer them to, nobody specializing in leaders adrift. That perturbed her, but the major catalyst to act came when Steve Simon, a former senior vice-president at ExxonMobil, who had been struggling with his own transition, died of a massive heart attack 18 months after his departure from the company, although there was no prior sign of heart disease.
Dr. Braksick found a new company called My Next Season to fill the void. "His death rocked me. Steve loved his work. He loved being in the thick of things. That's how most of my clients feel. And then the company tells them they need to transition out. It's a shock. It's abrupt. It's not a money problem for them. It's a life problem," she says in an interview.
Her first piece of advice is hard to swallow for these men and women of constant action: Take a pause. They need a chance to define what they are about rather than leap at the first opportunity. They need to pause if they are to progress in the future.
In her book, Your Next Season, she poses three questions to consider at this juncture.
- What have you wished you had the time to do?
- What activities over the past decades brought you the most joy?
- If on the last day of your life, someone were to describe how you spent your next season, what words would you want to hear spoken?
The first instinct of most clients is to jump back into the fray. But when they pause, they realize what parts of their past life they hated and what they relished. Do they really want more endless meetings, a calendar out of control and no time for family, sports and good health? Maybe they loved solving problems but not the implementation that followed. Maybe they want to take their skills to a new arena – a new industry, or the non-profit world.
One of her clients, Karen, shares this advice in the book, after her own transition: Take back control of your calendar; take advantage of a second chance with your family; gather advice from friends on what to do next, but process the ideas on your own; join an exercise class; rediscover an old hobby (she took up quilting and sewing); learn how not to be in charge; envision what type of day will be fulfilling to you and bring you joy; find a way to "pay it forward," as she did by mentoring young executives.
Dr. Braksick also says in the interview: "They find out what matters to them. If you don't take that pause you end up repeating what you were doing. This is a reset. A chance to reflect." Indeed, she did it herself. When she changed focus, after running a company for many years, she found a partner who could handle the administrative end of the new business, which she had tired of. "I gave myself permission to start a company and not manage it myself," she notes.
Permission is what it's about. Permission to not necessarily do the expected, since that may not be as appetizing as it initially seems. Most of these executives, for example, are inclined to seek appointments to boards, given their skills. But she reminds them what comes with that: Travel to multiday meetings four to six times a year, committee calls between those sessions, delving into plans and financials in a company they might not be hugely familiar with and a return to hotels, early flights and scheduling. Many demur. Consulting, another option, allows more control on schedule and can be kept episodic but still can be more demanding than her clients want.
For many, this is a time to ponder legacy – they feel blessed by the career they had and this is a time to help others and give back. She encourages people to listen to whispers and to ignore the "you should" they hear from others. A next season should be a new season, a time of joy.