When people hear the word retirement, they often think of it as an exciting achievement. For most, including me, this is the sought-after moment when you finally get to stop working and live. You get to travel, play golf, take up new activities, and spend time with your family.
We don’t talk about the psychological impact of retirement that many CEOs and leaders experience, ranging from stress and anxiety to overwhelm and sadness. But, when you’ve poured your heart and soul into an organization alongside a team of passionate and dedicated staff for 20+ years, the last thing you want to do is walk away without making sure they are poised for success after you leave.
With a 3.5 million person increase in retirement among adults in the past two years, this topic comes up repeatedly in the news and as a discussion topic with my friends. So, as I announce my retirement, I’ve given a lot of thought to how CEOs, like myself, can ensure they leave a legacy and keep their company’s culture intact after they pass the baton to their successor.
Embed your values
Many organizations list their “company values” somewhere on their website or employee handbook, but they don’t hold much meaning for their staff. It’s not enough to have defined values; they must be authentic to your company’s culture and truly reflect your mission and vision.
From there, CEOs must walk the talk, making the company’s values one of their main focuses. From the hiring process to employee evaluations, your values should directly connect to all facets of your business.
We’ve established our CARES values at our organization, a commitment to caring about the children and families we serve, our staff, and our community. As CEO, I must embody and embed this in big and small ways, whether implementing new benefits for the entire team or remembering each employee’s name.
Focus on processes
Early in my management career, I thought that if we reached our goals, it didn’t matter what path we took to get there. However, I quickly learned that if you didn’t understand how you achieved the results, you couldn’t easily repeat your success or assess what worked and what didn’t.
With this in mind, I prioritized hiring competent team members and empowering them to own their areas of the business. By allowing your team to create their own systems and processes, they are much more engaged and passionate about their work, and the results naturally follow.
By shifting our focus to process, we gained insights into our successes and failures and made tweaks and improvements to our business model as needed. As a result, we grew from 151 employees and less than $20 million in net assets to 550 employees and $122 million in net assets during my tenure—an achievement directly correlated to the management team and dedicated staff that work at the hospital.
Use servant leadership
As a leader, it’s not your responsibility to be the best at everything or know more than everyone else in your company. Instead, your role should be a facilitator ensuring your team has all the resources and tools to succeed.
Stephan Covey’s famous quote, “Seek first to understand,” explains this perfectly. Being a good listener is a critical key to servant leadership. For CEOs to have a good pulse on the organization, they must understand their employees’ issues, challenges, ideas, and passions at all levels to assess where support and resources are needed.
By creating an environment where employees feel safe to share their feedback, positive or negative, you weave this into the company’s culture, allowing your successor to build upon it in the future.
Whether you just launched a startup or celebrating your 100th anniversary like our hospital, I encourage you to intentionally think about how you can build a lasting brand and culture that will thrive for the next 100 years.
Sheldon Stein is the retiring CEO of Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital, a jointly owned affiliate of the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Medicine.