Loss of a Good Leader Leaves a Hole that Hurts in Many Ways
My Mother recently left this world. As part of my grieving process I have spent a lot of time reflecting, recalling about her life, and journaling my feelings. This is one thing I know for sure…
Losing a loved one leaves a hole!
This proverbial hole is in my heart and my life. Studies have described the importance of having a mother. She is typically the glue that holds a family together and when the mother dies prematurely, there is a high likelihood that the family will drift apart. Blessedly, my mother lived a good, full, and long life. Her death came about from declining health and immobility. We knew that she would not live through 2020… but that did little to ease the pain and sorrow we are now feeling.
Here is something you need to know about me: I experience life through the lens of leadership. Ergo – The loss of my mom is very much like an organization’s loss of a good leader.
Early in my career, I worked for a family business founded by “the old man.” This is universally how his employees referred to him.
The old man was a smart businessperson but a terrible leader, and that is the reason for his epithet. Thankfully, he had people on his team who were good leaders. “Ken” was one of these and he often had to fix what the old man broke. Within a few months on the job, I heard this tale.
Frequently the old man walked through the shop areas where the mechanics and parts people worked. If the old man saw something he didn’t like, without warning or asking for an explanation, he would publicly chew out the employee and sometimes fire them on the spot.
Ken would rush to fix the situation, such as apologize to the employee, help them feel better, and even nix the termination.
Because of his experience as well as good stewardship and warm relationships with our employees, when the old man retired and his son became CEO, Ken was promoted to Service Manager. Ken was admired and respected throughout the company.
During my second year on the job, Ken took his family on a Caribbean vacation. As a result of an accident, Ken was injured severely and died.
Shock waves impacted the company immediately. Even though I worked in a different division and had never worked with or for Ken, I could see and feel the impact and sadness. The grieving went on for a long time, even after Ken’s position was filled.
I did not know much about leadership that early in my career, but I saw the huge hole created when we lost a great leader unexpectedly.
You Will Lose Good Leaders
When I say ‘lose’, this is what I mean. An organization loses its leaders for a variety of reasons – health issues, job change, retirement, family obligations, termination, and many more reasons. Losing a good leader for ANY reason will almost always leave a big hole in your organization. Employees who respected and liked or loved that leader feel real, emotional pain. It takes time to get over the pain. It also takes time to transfer that leader’s role and responsibilities to another employee. An organization will miss that leader’s energy, wisdom, and influence. It can take a but a few months to fill that leader’s job, but it can take a year or more to fill THE HOLE left by the leader who is no longer there. This is especially true if he or she had key and high-level responsibilities.
I’m telling you this because your organization needs to be prepared for the loss of good leaders. This applies to every position, including the CEO. Most organizations don’t have any sort of plan in place and, as a result, the organization suffers more than it needs to. In addition to the emotional pain, there are other repercussions. You could experience a decline in profits, sales, or employee morale. I’ve seen, first hand, examples of this sort of loss tarnishing of an organization’s reputation because they lost a senior leader. The cost of an unexpected leadership loss is high and is why I urge you and your organization to implement a leader development plan (LDP), if you lack one.
A formal, well-developed plan will help you ease the pain and fill this leadership hole sooner rather than later.
Losing Someone Special Sucks
Now, back to my mother. I miss her a lot. I will mourn her, and yet I’m happy that she is in a better place. Her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will feel this pain for a long time. Those of us who lost her will feel sad and the pain never really goes away. In fact, Rose Kennedy said, “It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” As you know, a scab will come off and your pain will reoccur. This can happen when you least expect it.
You never know when you’ll lose a loved one, be it a relative or friend. It’s painful. When it is unexpected, it is a tragedy. The same is true for losing a good leader.
You will likely lose one when you least expect it.
If you don’t know when or where to start an LDP, I can help you!
Here is a story I wrote about my mother and what her life taught me about leading.