Leadership Skills for Retirement


I have a unique perspective compared to most of you reading this. I am no longer in the “work-world.” I am 79 and retired. And have had a while to figure out how to “do” retirement well. Although many folks count down the years to retirement with delight, I have seen many friends and colleagues seem a bit lost at times. Lack of predetermined schedules and deadlines and goals. Less camaraderie. Some folks “are what they do” at work, so experience a lack of self-worth and identity. I have also felt this at times. So my gift to you? A few ideas for you to digest now so that you can walk into retirement prepared to experience fulfillment and joy.

You are more on your own now.
In the corporate world there are frequently support staff to help managers in the accomplishment of their primary objectives. Computer problems or data management issues? Contact the internal experts. Safety or security concerns? New or improved product needs? Go to those functions that concentrate their activities in those areas. In retirement, everyone must learn to operate without this centrally located organizational support. Leadership skill needs have not changed. Your needs as a person have not changed. But don’t worry; it may be empowering to learn new skills or find new folks to support you.

Leadership skills needed in retirement are no different.
When gainfully employed, authority and responsibility are granted or assigned by the organization. In retirement, people often get involved with volunteer activities. I have gotten involved with political, spiritual, and charitable groups. I’ve quickly realized that it takes more personal skill to achieve objectives in the absence of granted organizational authority.

Volunteers don’t stick around if their own needs are not being met.
People have the same personal needs as employees or as volunteers, with one exception: volunteering doesn’t involve earning a living. So our ability to motivate and appreciate those we “work” with really matters at this stage of life if we want folks to stick around! Personally, I am trying to listen more and talk less (which would have been helpful years ago).

Don’t try to manage your spouse. Your companion in life is accustomed to you being gone much of the day as is anyone else in your household. Don’t be underfoot or conversely try to take charge as you are now available 24/7. Neither one is helpful in maintaining harmony and influence!


Connect. Staying vital and valuable is crucial. Not to be morbid, but reality is important to recognize as we age.
          • Family and friends move away. Some die.
          • As loved ones move through life stages, you may not be as much of a priority
          • You will probably become less competent, mentally or physically. Your abilities will change the experiences you have.
Some research shows that retirement can increase your risk of depression by 40%.
Social isolation is a real concern and can bring out our worst character flaws. Find ways to connect and be vigilant about making new friends. Make new friends, add new life into existing connections, and don’t forget to make friends with and embrace the “evolving you.”

Adapt, and take care of your body. Exercise physically. Watch the weight. For me, the days of downhill skiing and distance biking have passed. But exercise is still possible. Get creative: yoga and walking can be new experiences that you enjoy and get your heart rate going.

Adapt, and seize opportunities, and NEVER STOP LEARNING. Exercise mentally by challenging yourself. You are still learning, growing, and contributing in this world. What worked for you while you were working may no longer work. For example, the leadership philosophies that were gospel when I was in management have been turned on their heads. Leading is so different than managing. Get clear on that.
So get curious, seek feedback, and learn. Read, go to seminars and above all, practice what you learn. And adapt as necessary. Playing bridge can replace endurance biking. Travel to new places and distant places, as you want to stay closer to home in later years. Volunteer in areas important to you and where you can make a contribution. Make new friends, and expand your comfort zones.

And along this journey, be sure to appreciate this stage of life. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind, even now. Paying bills, keeping up with the house, and managing it all can still bring the stress and overwhelm of the work-world. So the biggest lesson for us all during these golden years? Take time to embrace what’s important to you, appreciate the gifts in your life, and invite joy.


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