Thursday, 16 January 2020

#9: Finding the casino exit

Have you ever been to a casino? Maybe in Las Vegas, maybe Southend? If so, you may recall how hard it is to find the exit once you are in having a good time because casinos are carefully designed to keep you inside playing. As the Gamble Aware programme says, “When the fun stops, stop.” Maybe as January comes around again you have thought about new projects. Perhaps you have thought about stopping your current work and exiting your organisation. Finding the exit is not always that easy, especially if you are the founder and/or CEO. Organisations, like casinos, are designed to keep us playing.

Often we begin new projects, new jobs and new ventures with seemingly endless energy and ambition. Our last consideration is how we might exit them successfully in some distant imagined future. As social sector leaders, we are also ever mindful of leaving our organisations in a stronger position than when we started. At the start of 2019 Dementia Adventure (DA) began preparing for its 10th anniversary and I began formal discussions with the trustee board about succession planning and my departure from the charity I had co-founded with Lucy Harding back in 2009. As a founding CEO, I had long been conscious that organisations develop and change over time and that organisations, in my view, need different leaders at different stages in their evolution. I had often been referred to as the inspiring leader who had the ideas and energy to get the organisation started. But with increasing success came the reflection that it was the right time to look for a new leader for the organisation, consciously avoiding Founder Syndrome whilst enabling the charity to thrive and grow into the longer-term future. To continue the casino metaphor, I was looking for the exit whilst I was still having fun.

Around this time, I was very grateful to receive a Rank Foundation bursary which enabled me to secure some invaluable 1:1 leadership mentoring and coaching. As a CEO, my focus had been on growing the organisation and supporting the team and so support for me had been lacking at times. With such a critical recruitment of a new CEO to embark upon and with no clear job waiting for me upon my departure from the organisation guided time to think was critical for me personally. Having 1:1 time with a mentor or a coach can sometimes feel indulgent or navel-gazing but I think it is significantly underrated, particularly at times of change and transition.

The mentoring created much needed time out of the office, space and time to think, to discuss and to address any concerns the team had about the changes, as well as logistically plan the steps in the calendar as we embarked upon our transition year. Mentoring and coaching can provide a healthy dose of challenge, support and enable you to critically address the key decisions that needed to be made. In senior positions decision fatigue can be a real issue and so addressing the right decisions at the right time is very important.

For me personally, I stayed objectively distant from the recruitment process of the new DA CEO Vivienne Depledge but did actively engage with Vivienne at various events and meetings both prior to her starting and once in post. I have every faith that she is a perfect fit for the organisation and is already taking DA to another level as we aim to reach and benefit even more people living with dementia. I am confident that I handed over my CEO role and the organisation in the best possible position to thrive, and am proud to support DA in a voluntary honorary adviser capacity. Without key mentoring support at a crucial time, I am not sure this process would have been so smooth or so positive in its conclusion.

When considering the next steps in your future career it is very important to pay attention to the things you are naturally drawn to because they are often connected to your path, passion and purpose in life. A good leadership mentor or coach can help you focus on these things so your next steps are heading in the right direction.

Are you ready to stop and find an exit? Could you exit? If you could exit soon do you know where your path is heading? Where will your next adventure be?

Looking through square doorways to the exit and garden beyond