Years ago, my aunt offered me my grandparents’ dining room set. Costing something in the range of a kings’ ransom when they purchased it decades ago, receiving such a central piece of our family history was a big deal.
After three moves — and a substantial home renovation that rendered the buffet and china cabinet obsolete — it was time to find it all a new home.
Unlike some things that I’ve been able to give away, I struggled to let these pieces go. I was raised in a Catholic family that was just as devoutly committed to smoking and drinking, as evidenced by the permanent scars of burn marks and water rings they left behind. I felt a wave of guilt that I was betraying the memories made around that table long before me.
Interestingly, there’s a host of other Millennials being offered furniture, keepsakes, and other family heirlooms as our parents choose to downsize. It’s all part of the $30 trillion of wealth expected to pass to Gen Y in the coming decades.
This furniture story comes up in my coaching, especially with the succession candidates with whom I work.
Stepping into a leadership role, especially one that a successful predecessor is vacating, is more challenging than learning leadership’s science and art. It is about navigating the genuine issues of legacy and how to preserve what the predecessor built while continuing on a growth path. Even further, it takes a significant amount of emotional intelligence.
There are three lessons I took away from my hand-me-down experience:
- Acknowledge the experience: Stepping into succession is different from simply “leveling up” in your career. If that succession experience includes family or a close mentorship relationship, it’s even more challenging. Don’t ignore or minimize the difficulty.
- Presumption error: I began to ask myself a question: “Would I presume to make a purchase that would dictate my grandchildren’s adult decorating choices (or other decisions) decades from now?” Knowing my grandparents, they weren’t that presumptuous. Part of succession is knowing what aspects of the organizational culture need to stay and which elements are ripe for growth and improvement.
- It has to be yours: At some point in succession, you become the owner rather than the caretaker. You need to embrace the role and move forward with confidence without spending too much time looking in the rearview mirror. It might take years, but it is an essential part of growing into succession leadership.
And the furniture? It went to my brother-in-law’s college apartment. He knows not to give it away without talking to me first.