Warum Manager den Ruhestand fürchten

4. März 2014
Ruhestand: Manager haben Angst vor der Bedeutungslosigkeit

Ruhestand: Manager haben Angst vor der Bedeutungslosigkeit

2. Teil: Lesen Sie hier den Text von Manfred Kets de Vries

The Dark Side of Retirement
by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries

A retired CEO, Jerry was a sad, aging man who reflected constantly on the emptiness of his life. Listening to him, it became clear to me that he had never had any interests outside work. And the prospect of spending time at home with a partner who seemed to have turned into a stranger made him all the more depressed.

For people like Jerry the public recognition that accompanies a position at the top of an organization becomes the most meaningful dimension of their lives. Their life anchors are their identification with an institution of great power; influence over individuals, policies, finances, and the community; and constant affirmation of their importance as individuals and of their role as leaders.

With retirement, all these anchors disappear from one day to the next. The destabilizing effect is often exacerbated by a realization of what has been lost, or sacrificed, years earlier, on the way up to the top: a fulfilling personal life; a good relationship with a spouse, children, and friends; and time to develop outside contacts and interests. That's one reason why many top executives delay retiring and cling to power for as long as they can.

Other hidden but potent psychological and emotional factors also conspire to make retirement difficult. To begin with, people usually attain top leadership positions just when the effects of aging become more noticeable. When top executives look in the mirror, the face frowning back at them from the mirror shows the ravages of age, unleashing a wave of negative emotions: fear, anxiety, grief, depression, and anger.

Self-consciousness about the deterioration of the body (a sense, almost, of being defective) can stimulate the search for substitutes for attractiveness and virility. For some people - and top executives are prime candidates, given the prestigious positions they occupy - wielding power is a gratifying substitute, becoming a replacement for lost looks. Small wonder that so many are reluctant to let go. If the power of office is the only thing they have left, they will hold onto that office as long as they can.

Another complicating factor for those faced with the prospect of relinquishing power is the talion principle. Derived from early Babylonian laws it states that criminals should receive the like-for-like punishment for injuries inflicted on their victims. Leadership involves making difficult decisions that affect the lives and happiness of others - positively, but also negatively. Because of their unconscious belief in the principle, leaders file all those decisions in a memory bank and, as the number of "victims" mounts, so does the expected retaliation. This makes them extremely defensive and provides another incentive not to retire.

© 2014 Harvard Business Publishing
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