OK, so you’ve served your two terms as a director, and now it’s time to give way to someone else. You’ve enjoyed being in all those board committee meetings with your fellow directors, and you have developed close relations with several of them. You also feel good about the value you have been adding to an organisation with which you have come to associate yourself closely.
You became an ambassador and a champion for the brand, and you were a mentor and coach to several of the staff. If you were the chairman then your sense of ownership was the deeper, your relationship with the CEO the stronger. And now what had come to be an integral part of your life is coming to an end. It will leave a big gap. You will miss the collegial spirit, the sharing and the learning, the celebration of triumphs and breakthroughs… and even the mutual condoling following setbacks and crises.
Having been through numerous such transitions over the years I thought it would be helpful to write about how retiring directors can find ways of dealing with their loss of board positions, and equally how those they will be leaving behind can make their exit much smoother and more graceful than many turn out to be.
As I have thought about the stages one goes through, it occurred to me that they are actually akin to the grieving process. The first instinct is denial, to so wish your time will not be coming to an end that you actually avoid the reality of its imminence. But just as with the loss of a loved one, denial must inevitably give way to acceptance… and so the period of mourning over loss ensues. Eventually, with the further passage of time, the person reaches closure, heals and is able to look back at their years of service on that board with a sense of detached retrospection.
So first, what advice can I give the retiree? Always accept that your appointment was never meant to be for life, that no one is indispensable, and that as one door closes others may open. Keep giving your utmost till the last day of your term, and hand over on the due day with no regrets. Your inner motivation and sense of commitment may have dimmed somewhat, but let this is in no way affect how you perform your duties. Be proud of your legacy, and have others speak well of you.
Then, how should the remainers support those who are “rotating out”? Understand that your departing colleagues may indeed be grieving, however stoic they may appear. We are all human, and so our stiff upper lip may hide uncomfortable inner emotions.
Therefore show generous appreciation for where and how they have made a difference, and in addition to expressing this informally it is good to lay on a ceremony, however brief, to acknowledge their contributions with a speech or two and a notional gift through which they can continue remembering their time among you with pleasure.
What I have seen is that in too many situations – not least in the public sector – when your time is up, that’s it. You are immediately disconnected, no one is bothered to tap into your skills or your institutional memory any longer, and it’s as if you never existed.
Some organisations have devised ways of holding on to past leaders so they can continue benefiting from their wisdom, whether as consultants and advisers, or maybe as Fellows. In such “life after death” positions these elders must in no way compete with the directors of the day but be available to complement their roles.
I have found this to be particularly helpful where directors are volunteers, and the best example I can think of is Kenya private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) with its Advisory Council (of which I am a member) and its Foundation.
In conclusion therefore, I invite board directors to appreciate that their outgoing colleagues are normal men and women with normal human emotions, in need of empathy and appreciation as they reach the end of their terms in office. Say farewell nicely, and have them continue to speak well of your organisation.