For years, you have been an important figure in the organization, actively involved in decision making and having access to privileged information. The lines of authority ran through your office. Resource allocation came under your watch, and you had a robust voice regarding the future direction of your group or company. You were unquestionably integral to the operation. Many of the firm's successful ideas were yours. People dealt with you delicately, as you were clearly an organizational top dog. Now, growing older, you look around and see that your authority base has diminished.
You are still held in great respect, but somehow your knowledge base is no longer as current as it once was. Your access to a network of ideas and contacts is a bit more diffuse. The number of powerful players in your cohort is much smaller than it was. And your core technical knowledge and appreciation of the nuts and bolts, although reasonable, is no longer as agile as it used to be. You are beginning the slow process of fading as a top dog.
The challenge now is simple. Do you cling on to the authority that you lost? Do you try to sustain your prestige? Do you run around trying to create new networks? Do you read everything you can get your hands on to stay ahead of the game? Do you reinforce your peacock stride to remind everyone that you're still important? Do you cling, or do you let it go?
Clinging to the remnants of your top-dog role has its detrimental, and sometimes humiliating, effects. If you're not careful, you may appear to others as a bit pathetic. There is an alternative for the fading top dog. Transform yourself, recreate yourself, reinvent yourself as an organizational guru.
Gurus are those actors who are no longer involved in the minutiae of organizational life. They may no longer have the networks or have an easy command of the technical details, but they do have a nuanced sense of the organization, an appreciation of core values, an understanding of history, and numerous lessons from experience that they can share.
Gurus may be a bit on the periphery, but they have a unique organizational position. Top dogs who become gurus continue to have sway and influence, even though they no longer have formal authority.
A fact of organizational life is that top dogs need to be replaced. The challenge, for yesterday's top dog, is to gracefully transition to guru. Gurus are positioned to provide guidance even though they may not be suited to to convey detail.
Fading top dogs can manage the transition to guru if they keep the following in mind:
1. Make it clear that you welcome and accept your transition. Clinging top dogs tend to show resistance. If you let go of the resistance, are open about the new role, show happiness (or relief) in letting go some of the minutiae, and share excitement about this new opportunity to reflect, others will be more likely to cast you as an ally or a mentor.
2. Show that your notion of time has changed. Organizational top dogs tend to operate with an immediate time frame, a get-it-done-now attitude, and instant decision-making. By changing your perception of time, you project an image of being more concerned with dialogue, process, and exploration.
3. Use the past as lessons, not as commandments. When making reference to the past or how things used to be done, don't over-celebrate the old successes. Present past experience in a nuanced way so others can appreciate that you're sharing history as a learning experience, not as a blueprint.
4. Continue to grow culturally, scientifically, and socially. Give others a sense that they can discuss things with you beyond the simple tactics of the organization. Show that you are open to broader discussions and grander ideas.
5. Embrace your age. Being older than many in the organization may allow you to engage in dialogue from a more empathetic place. Don't let the aging experience lead you to authoritarianism or a rigid outlook. Let it lead to you deeper listening and having more empathy.
6. Mentor through stories. Successful gurus with experience often use stories to make relevant points. Later in your career, your role as a storyteller, if you accept it, becomes a powerful and acceptable teaching tool.
In the final analysis, you may no longer be the person in authority, but if you reconstitute your role, check your ego at the door, are willing to be wise instead of clever, maybe, just maybe, you have an important role in helping your organization forge the next generation of top dogs.