Make Time for What Matters Before It’s Too Late (HBR)

“In a market that’s become extremely lean and mean… individuals who have tended to be the senior statesmen of their day are sometimes the first to go.”

That comment by Richard Stein, an executive recruiter in New York, should be handed out with diplomas to all newly minted MBAs. On the one hand this is good news for them because it means there is room at the top — but it’s also a warning to these up-and-comers that time flies.

Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times, who spoke to Stein as well as a number of senior leaders in law and financial services firms, reports that the day of involuntary retirement is fast approaching for many senior leaders, many of whom want to hang on to their jobs a while longer.

Reluctance to exit is understandable. Many senior leaders define themselves by their jobs. Senior executives especially grow accustomed to the perks that come with the job. But it’s not the corporate jet they’ll miss the most when they leave. People in power miss being in power. No longer will their phone calls be returned nor will people stop them in the halls to ask their advice. In retiring, they lose what they treasure most: influence.

That is why Stein’s dictum is so pertinent to today’s emerging leaders. Prepare for the future now. There is a misperception that legacy is something reserved for the CEO and his or her team in their last year at the top. No, you begin to create your legacy your first day on the job — and you build on it with every accomplishment over your career. (You also scuff up that legacy with mistakes you make, too.)


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First posted on 6/17/2011