Opinion: Pinstripes to sweat pants

Monday, 01 September 2014


    Paul Lahiff provides some pointers on how to survive the transition from executive to non-executive life.

    The thought of significant time to relax and reflect post-executive life is an attractive one. Many CEOs and senior executives embrace that downtime and enjoy it immensely.

    There are, however, those who simply wish to move from one form of corporate life to another – from that of an executive to a non-executive.

    This may involve board roles, consulting work and mentoring or a portfolio of some or all of these.

    For those who might be contemplating such a move, here are some thoughts on how to achieve it and, more importantly, how to survive the process:

    Develop a plan: Planning and the ability to strategise is a critical competency for executives. Why wouldn’t it be the same for the next phase of your corporate career?

    The first part of the plan requires some critical and robust self-examination – reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and what you will bring to the table as a non-executive.

    Step two involves working on your “merchandising”. You probably haven’t had to refresh your resume for some time and in any case, a CV for non-executive use is fundamentally different to an executive resume.

    So take the time to develop a cogent and succinct summary of what makes you stand out.

    Finally, determine your audience. While search firms can play a role in finding a match, as will social media such as Linkedin, the richest vein of gold is more likely to be your networks.

    Word-of-mouth advocacy has a higher probability of success than just about any other mechanism. So dust off your contacts list and let people know you’re in the game.

    Start before you finish: Creating an overlap between your executive and non-executive careers is optimal. This involves taking on a non-executive director role one or two years before you finish up as an executive (provided your employer is agreeable).

    The old adage of “it’s easier to get a new job while you’re still employed in your old job” holds true here as well.

    Your first non-executive role is critical: Taking the time to consider which non-executive option fits best will have a material influence on what might come to you further down the track. The first role essentially establishes your personal brand in the non-executive space and it is therefore important that you think about it from both a short- and medium term perspective.

    Determine the benefits: This means more than remuneration. It usually requires subjective and emotional benefits such as being able to give something back to the corporate or philanthropic sectors using your experience. Having a clear idea of what you are looking to achieve will significantly assist in determining what roles you wish to seek out and/or opportunities that are offered to you.

    Figure out what you will miss: In addition to establishing what you will “receive”, you will need to have a clear idea of what you won’t.

    For starters, you won’t necessarily get the same recognition and sense of self-esteem as you would as an executive, nor the number of social invitations.

    You also won’t have infrastructure such as a personal assistant or a help desk when your technology plays up.

    Finally, you won’t have the same level of social and inter-personal activity – simple things like Friday night drinks with your staff will no longer be on the agenda. Thinking about this in advance will prepare you for the vague unease created when you will inevitably find yourself in this position.

    Take the time to reward yourself: While you need to have a plan and attack it with gusto, looking at it as a full-time task can be dangerous. If you have a day of unplanned activity, sitting around waiting for the phone call or an email is more stress than you need. Go to the movies or the beach or take yourself out to lunch.

    Work hard on your relationships: This is likely to be a time when your interaction with those around you is critical. You will have less structure in your life than before and this is likely to leave you feeling disconnected. Take the time to work on your relationship with your spouse, family and friends as a supplement and complement to your new career. The benefits will be enormous.

    Stay fit: In addition to remaining intellectually and socially fit, being physically fit will present you for future opportunities in the best possible fashion. Go for a walk, run or a swim. The added benefit of exercise is that it also provides great thinking time.

    In summary, the rewards from a full non-executive phase of your life can be material. However, as with your executive career, it requires sound strategy and effective execution.

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