The Secret: What every founder must do for a successful transition


By Doug Sippel, CEO Leadership Transitions, LLC.

The secret to a great transition is learning to let go.
There are many reasons why it’s hard to let go. It requires a major shift in your mindset. You've spent years of blood, sweat, and tears building this business and in many ways it defines who you are. Your friends, family, and community see you as head of the business and respect your authority. If you are no longer a business owner, who are you? How can you hand over control? Can you trust your successor? What will you do if you don’t have to go into the office? Will there be enough income to support the next chapter in your life? Below are several ways to help you envision the transition process and how to let go.

Handing off the baton

Unless you want the business to dissolve when you leave, you must pass on both the management and the ownership baton. Creating and keeping a business growing has been like a marathon race. Now you have to change your thinking from a marathon to a relay race. It’s now a team race, and you must trust that you are handing the baton to people who are capable and qualified to run the business and take it to new heights. The business can’t continue moving forward to new successes if you fail to pass on the baton. In the transition process, you can learn to trust others to take over, and let them do it their way. Learning to trust makes it easier to let go.

Become a coach

You learned to be successful in building your business by holding on tightly to the controls. For you it feels unnatural to let go of the controls. However, it can be equally rewarding to step into the role of coach and stop being a player. By moving to a new role as Chairman of the Board, you can begin to think like a coach and have strategic oversight, while letting go of the operational control. You’ll find it can be very rewarding to help others become successful, and it requires a different skill set. Finding a new role makes it easier to let go.

The monkey bar effect

Letting go requires that you have something else to grab onto. I call it "the monkey bar effect." When you were a kid swinging on the monkey bars and you reached the last bar, you held on tight. You couldn’t move forward because there was nothing else to grab. The same can be true for your business. If you haven't decided what to do with the rest of your life, your natural reaction is to hang on tight to your business. Now it's time to realize that you can build new rungs on the monkey bars. By deciding what you want to do with the next part of your life, you will be able to move forward. Having a new challenge makes it easier to let go.

Building more income streams

It’s also hard to let go if you are not feeling financially secure. Investing everything back into the business is great for growing the business. It's not so great when you decide it's time to leave the business. Will you have enough income when you stop receiving a salary and benefits? Do you have several income streams to secure your financial future? If not, now’s the time to develop a plan to diversify your balance sheet with multiple income streams to replenish your pool of retirement funds. Building these streams can be fun and challenging while giving you lots of new options. Feeling secure financially makes it easier to let go.

You are the temporary steward

Another way to look at this transition is that being an owner is being a steward. You’ve been privileged and challenged growing a business that has provided financial assets. As a steward, you’ve used these assets to provide income for many families and to make a better community for your grandchildren. Being a steward means there is no transition of "ownership" because you never "owned" the business. Many businesses are a set of agreements between people we call owners and employees. If the employees walked out the door tomorrow, the value of your business would plummet. The business is simply in your care for a certain period. When you need to move on, the business either continues with another steward or it ceases to exist. Realizing you are a steward makes it easier to let go.

You don’t own a child; you raise a child

If you are a parent, you can think of your business transition like raising a child. When your child was born it was your challenge to raise and help the child grow up and learn how to stand on their own feet. However, you don't "own" your child. There comes a time when being a good parent means letting the child go out into the world without you. Your adult child has skills and talents that make them a unique individual with a destiny. So too, you want your business to be able to exist without you and become part of your legacy. Being a ‘good parent’ to your business makes it easier to let go.

We hope you will keep one or more of these images in mind as you go through your business transition. Remember, the secret: LET IT GO!  You can do it, and we'll be there to help you every step of the way.  Have faith and take that first step today.


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