Five lessons for departing leaders

Author Chris Wright shares advice for life after triumph

Departing CEOs must face a crushing sense of: “Now what?” When you have lived and breathed a job night and day for years, the post-job anticlimax can be daunting.

So what can business leaders learn from people who have had to deal with the challenge of finding meaning and direction in life after its apparent high point has been and gone?

Here are five lessons:

1. You can change direction while drawing on what you knew before.

Apollo 12 pilot Alan Bean walked on the Moon before deciding to follow his true passion: art. There’s only one subject he painted for the next 40 years, however: astronauts on the surface of the moon.

2. Talk, don’t bury.

People who leave in difficult circumstances can still build on that ordeal.

Captain Al Haynes was the pilot on United Airlines Flight 232, which crash-landed in Sioux City in 1989 after engine failure.

Although 111 people died in the fiery accident, 185 survived due to the actions of the flight crew. He developed a talk on the disaster which he has now delivered 2000 times.

The chief flight attendant, Jan Brown, has devoted the rest of her life to changing aircraft regulations for the safety of infants.

Former Lebanon hostage, journalist John McCarthy, now leads his professional field on the Middle East, partly because of the unique understanding of the region that he gained from his time in captivity there.

3. You can take a totally different path and be happy.

Ray Wilson was a member of the 1966 World Cup-winning England football side.

Every other member of that team is a household name in England, but not Ray – because he turned his back on the game and became an undertaker in Yorkshire instead.

He and his wife are perfectly happy and haven’t missed the limelight once.

4. You don’t need to rest on your laurels to be successful.

Bill Anders was a member of the Apollo 8 crew – the first to travel to the Moon and to see the Earth in its entirety.

He spent most of his later life, however, slightly irritated about that notoriety, and today he would much rather people remember his subsequent exceptional career at General Dynamics, where he was a remarkable turnaround CEO.

To him, that’s the much greater achievement – far from trading on his Apollo history, he’d rather ignore it.

5. Helping others overtake you can be rewarding.

In 1960, Joe Kittinger jumped from the edge of the atmosphere, setting a skydiving record that stood for 52 years.

When it was finally broken in 2012, by base jumper Felix Baumgartner, it only happened because of Kittinger’s considerable assistance. He was capsule communicator (on the other end of the radio) and mentor for Baumgartner’s jump. Being part of a mission, even one that erased him from the record books, gave him an enormous sense of wellbeing.

Chris Wright is the author of No More Worlds To Conquer: Sixteen people who defined their time – and what they did next (HarperCollins, A$34.99 hardback, A$13.99 e-book). This edited extract originally appeared in the October issue of In The Black.

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