You’ve Reached the Top. Now What? Pointers for Facing Life After the C-Suite
Nick Craig, President, Core Leadership Institute
Congratulations: You’re at the top of your organization or field. CEO, CFO, chairperson, award winner…
Most executives and high-achievers have a predictable narrative as to how they expect their journey to turn out, from moving up the ranks in their organizations to reaching a coveted position, often with a fancy title and all the perks it entails All the while, they push aside the little voice at the back of their mind saying,: “Nobody can stay at the top or in their dream position forever. Life changes. Businesses change. Retirement happens. Then what?”
It’s a daunting thought -- one most leaders would prefer not to focus on.
But it turns out there is a clear answer, one that has been there all along. It is rooted in purpose, which, as I explain in my new book Leading From Purpose: Clarity and The Confidence to Act When it Matters Most, is the essence of who we are as individuals and what we bring to a situation that nobody else can.
For CEOs and high-achievers at the top who are wondering where else they will ultimately find satisfaction, connecting with our purpose helps us see beyond goals and checklists of achievements. Purpose is present in every instant of our lives. It manifests itself in how we interact with the challenges of the moment—not dependent on what role, title or office we have.
Take James, for example. When I first met James he was a senior procurement executive in a large multinational. He describes his purpose as, “To harness all the elements to win the race.” This metaphor draws on his lifelong passion for sailing. Once selected as an Olympic team alternate, James knows first-hand how sailing requires unbelievable balance and coordination. “You never know what the wind will do next, and, in the end, it’s only your combined capabilities, intuition, and flow that win the race. All our competitors have the same boats we have…so it’s all about the crew and how you read the elements,” he explains.
This lens through which he sees the world applies to every part of his life. Discovering it ultimately led him to leave the multinational that was once so important to work instead for a very small airline. Why? Well, he now lives 100 meters from a world-class sailing club where his kids are learning how to race. This allows him to lead from his purpose in all parts of his life, including his family -- his “shore team.” He stopped letting his job define him and instead defined himself through his purpose.
At the pinnacle of your career, or when faced with impending change, understanding and re-centering on your individual purpose helps prepare you for what’s next.
How? Here are three actions I encourage people to take in order to center, or re-center, on their individual purpose:
Examine your Proudest moments in life
Just looking at work moments, you may not find the pattern. Purpose is expressed and present in all areas of our life -- both in and out of the office. It’s really powerful to list your proudest moments both on the job and in your personal life. The question to answer is what was it that you brought to the moment that made you proud?
Look for the thread, and your purpose will be smiling back at you.
Follow your energy
Purpose is at the root of what energizes us. It is where all our aliveness, curiosity, insight, and full engagement are generated. If an activity makes you feel filled with energy and drive—not drained or lethargic—you are in the room of purpose. And yes if singing in the car as you drive to work is the most energizing thing you do, in that is a key access point to the purpose that leads you!
Imagine your absence
Let’s face it there are many other executives who have the skills and capabilities to do your job. What would your colleagues miss the most about you as an individual if you were replaced with someone of equal skills? What is the unique, irreplaceable gift you bring to every situation is your purpose. Your leadership legacy is your purpose.
Your role will change in time. Yet the unique gift you bring to it and to every other situation will be with you for life. The more you fully lead from it the more it will be there no matter what adventure you may be on next. Welcome to the world of leading from purpose. It was there when you were 2 and will still be with you at 102.
About the Author
Nick Craig is the President of the Core Leadership Institute, a leadership consulting firm committed to waking up those who will wake up the many by inspiring them to discover their purpose and equipping them to lead authentically. He has guided over 5,000 executives in the last ten years on the journey to discover and lead with purpose, and has worked with organizations including GE, Unilever, Goldman Sachs and West Point Military Academy.