Giving up, surrendering
Hanging on and then falling
Letting down your defenses
Letting go of the reins
Letting yourself go (as in losing physical fitness or being out of shape)
Letting someone off the hook (as in “just let it go, don’t get upset”)
It’s funny how one phrase can have so many meanings. Asking people at different points in their lives – especially those experiencing change in their jobs, housing and relationships – affects how people perceive the phrase “let go.” For example, being “let go” is a workplace euphemism for being fired. Experiencing divorce or being widowed can take years of pain and adjustment before one can let go. Having children leave the nest is a common use of the phrase “letting go.”
In the world of my clients, seldom is there an owner who only has himself or herself to consider. Usually there are partners, as well as family members and heirs. Sometimes there are key employees who have received promises. The more complex the situation, the more likely there are other factors influencing the concept of letting go. These include:
Fear of failure
Fear of the unknown
Fear of having no options
Fear of going broke
Fear of losing one’s purpose
Fear of losing control.
In rare cases do I talk to an owner who views the process of letting go in a purely positive light. There are always tinges of doubt, fear and regret.
How owners view the process of letting go
In my meetings and phone calls with clients, we discuss what the next 10 years will look like. Will the business be sold to a partner, investor or competitor? Will it be transitioned to family members? Will the employees or a management team take over? Will a new CEO be brought in to handle the day-to-day activities so the owner can get a taste of retirement?
All of these are common ways an owner can let go of the business on a successful note. And, to my personal preference, these options allow a successful business to continue to provide jobs, incorporate new ideas, adapt to the future, and keep money circulating in the community and in the economy. Letting go, then, can serve the greater good, allowing the business to continue to thrive once it’s time for the owner to release his or her grip.
Determining when it’s time to let go
Over the decades, and especially in the past year, I have worked with many clients who had long passed the point where they should have let go. Why do they stay? Many reasons, which include:
They feel invincible.
Spouses and family members want the paycheck.
It’s all they know.
They are trying to carry on the family legacy from their own parents.
They are disorganized.
They are not visualizing far enough down the road.
They think that planning for retirement or death makes them mortal.
They need health insurance or need to provide for a family member’s health situation.
They are concerned about what the IRS consequences will involve.
They are uncomfortable about facing and committing to the process of estate planning and then finalizing their decisions about their estate.
They think they can’t afford the next step.
They can’t afford to exit.
They enjoy the camaraderie of the workplace.
They are uncomfortable with the thought of free time.
They do not enjoy the spouse and would prefer to be spending time at work, or some version of work, such as playing golf with colleagues.
The role of money in the inability to let go
“Bad timing” or “inconvenient timing” are common excuses I hear from owners about not being ready to let go. Timing, however, is often an excuse for “wanting more time.” Why do owners want more time? When the economy is good, owners want to hang on and maximize their nest egg. They want to grow the business so they can increase the asking price. They want to enjoy the thrill of success and mastery.
When the economy is challenging, owners want to hang in there and use their expertise to get through rough patches. They may fund the business temporarily from their own pockets. They heroically provide jobs in unsteady times to family members and loyal friends. They may enjoy the exhilaration of the wild ride and the satisfaction of coming out on the other side.
Whatever the thrill of the present, many owners view the future as rosier and more lucrative than today’s reality. Like compulsive gamblers or stock traders, they seek one more year – and then another – to throw their chips in, with the hope that the business will grow even greater and they can leave on an even higher note.
A changing attitude about letting go
As I meet with younger owners and second generation leadership, I see a new attitude about work-life balance, the importance of employees and the kind of legacy an owner should leave. Rather than being discouraged by the younger generation, I am very hopeful about the world of business and the contributions of young people.
In the coming year, I will explore the topic of letting go. I will share stories of owners who successfully let go, those who struggled to do so, and those who ended up waiting too long...and what the consequences were. If you have your own perspective about letting go, I invite you to contact me and tell me your story.
Letting go does not have to be a painful experience. It is the bridge to the other side. With proper planning and foresight, as well as the guidance and assistance of the right experts, you can let go successfully and enjoy the next stage of your life.
For 35 years, Rock LaManna has coached and advised owners of printing companies on how to make business changes from a place of empowerment and knowledge. It’s never easy to change course or face unpleasant truths, but the team at the LaManna Alliance has the hands-on experience to keep you moving forward. Visit RockLaManna.com to start the process.