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Legacy: What Will You Leave Ahead When You Leave Your Business?

My husband and I have a favourite coffee shop 20 minutes outside of our city. When the owner of the coffee shop is on the bar we always know our coffee is going to be extra special that day.

But the day will come when the founder needs to transition out of the business ——-WHAT?!? Screeching halt! For me and many founders out there, this is not an easy thing to contemplate: the day when it is time to move on to the next great thing, or to retire, or simply because we know the act of leaving is the best decision for the company we believe in.

Whether it’s our business, our children, or a nonprofit we started, “founders’ syndrome” seems to present as thoughts such as: I don’t trust anyone else to do this; it was my vision from the beginning and I still see where we need to go; and, sadly, I don’t want to be sent out to pasture.

Given the importance of the founder’s vision to the vitality of the organization, the thought of leaving seems to pull at the very heart of the business itself. For the company that has done all it could to strengthen their team and systems, sometimes even that cannot be enough. Even large companies struggle in this area, unable to fully keep their identity and the confidence of their customers — think Apple.

As I begin to think about all that is entailed in my own succession plan I feel a bit queasy and overwhelmed, even though I am still fifteen to twenty years out. When you have poured your sweat, tears, money, time and love into building success for more than twenty-five years, another twenty doesn’t seem like it will be enough. Yet there comes a time when we all must think about the future, plan for our replacement, and ultimately move aside for the good of the company. In preparing this blog post I asked myself the question:

When you think of leaving, what do you want to leave ahead?

For you see it’s not about what we leave behind, but what we are leaving ahead, to those who will continue to care for what we have cared about so much. For me there are only three things I really could wish for everyone to carry forward (in addition to our awesome mission, systems, and culture, of course) and they are ideas from the past, hope for the future, and optimism through anything that shows up.

Ideas from the past

All founders understand that the original business plan is really a living document that will be changed, tested, investigated, and strengthened over time. The cumulative advantage arises from the first idea being moulded into shape over time. Sometimes when we feel stuck for new ideas a review of the past can help.

Jackie Kennedy took this to heart when she updated the White House furnishings – not to spend money or to make it more beautiful as was the popular opinion in the media, but to reveal ideas of the past by exposing this history through artifacts that had been hidden away (at this point there were very few artifacts around the White House that reflected the efforts of the people earlier than the 1940s). Since her husband was interested in and strongly affected by history, Jackie felt this would be of great inspiration to him and everyone who visited.

If the thought that new ideas may come from the history of the business seems strange to you, it may be easier to think of it more like a revitalization. As Jackie asserted, “it would be sacrilege merely to redecorate it. It must be restored.”

Hope for the future

Hope is the belief that things could be better and that you can make them better. This is an important message to leave behind with your leadership team. Dr. Shane J. Lopez, author of Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others, says hope is a critical belief if a company is to prosper.

Lopez goes on to discuss the stats of hope in the workplace and that it accounts for 14% of total productivity. Therefore the company’s goals and the strategies that accompany them must be meaningful and convey the hopeful nature of the mission – the feeling that there is always more hope to be had.

According to Lopez, “When we’re excited about ‘what’s next,’ we invest more in our daily life, and we can see beyond current challenges.”

Optimism through anything that shows up

Did you know that optimistic people work harder? In fact, research studies have proven that pessimism severely hinders a person’s ability to take actions to improve their life and work.

When we bestow optimism and point out moments that are more good than stressful, our business will become increasingly more successful in fulfilling its mission and increasing its profits. Leaving ahead an optimistic mindset can encourage happiness and lead the company into conveying vibrancy, both real and perceived, for many years to come.

It is so hard to let go and to talk about a world without us in it, isn’t it? No matter the age of the leader or stage of the organization, succession planning is much easier when the founder is involved. So even if you are just starting your business and embarking on your vision as a big picture thinker, this part of the plan is important to envision too.

Next week’s post will be a good reminder as we wrap up this series that covered the most critical steps in owning a social purpose business.