The art of walking away

KAMAL KARANTH | Updated on January 13, 2018

Letting go It is difficult to cede control of something one has created, as l’affaireInfosys shows. (Above) A file picture of Vishal Sikka (left) and NR Narayana Murthy


It takes a unique ability to allow an entity one has created to blossom under someone else

It’s not uncommon to get calls from past colleagues who tell me how much they miss me and how the place I have left doesn’t have the same charm as before. Yes, it helps boost my ego, and occasionally gives me some sadistic pleasure. Sometimes I get frantic calls about a surprise new hire, another resignation, or news about my old decisions being reversed.

Yes, I can ignore these calls and leave them to their fate. But I feel I owe it to them to act as a sounding board. Moreover, as a past leader I feel entitled to keep a connection with them, so I keep feeding them my opinions, not knowing the context fully.

Not everybody keeps tabs on what’s happening at their former company. I believe the people who keep back channels open with organisations are most likely to be founders, who, even after leaving, may not have found a new life. Or employees who have served long tenures at a place, and people who worked in leadership roles.

A little gossip among the alumni does no harm as often that’s the only common bond to keep the connection going. The problem really starts when former leaders do it in public. The consequences can be quite disastrous if the company is a reputed brand and worse if it is listed.

Every opinion of ours – whether it is objective or otherwise – can have a huge impact on stock prices, customer perceptions and employee morale! In the world of social media and news-hungry active media, murmurs which used to be harmless in the past can become big distractions to boards.

It is intriguing how we cannot get away from things we created. We can attribute this to human nature which makes us nostalgic about our upbringing, schooling, college, friends and family, not to mention old workplaces. In a long career, our affinity to certain employers is so strong that we just can’t get away but think and talk about them and criticise them long after quitting. Why ?

I think some of us just can’t let things go. It takes a unique ability to create a great company and even greater ability to allow it to blossom under somebody else. Any company which has to grow and sustain for a long period of time has to undergo the pain of change. If the new leadership is not allowed to make any radical changes, then it would be wise to have our own loyalists run the company or bring our own kith and kin to those roles. That way founders can be open about their real intentions and nobody would blame them.

But it’s difficult to walk away from what you have created. Some people call it their baby and hold on to it, never allowing it to grow. Some people will say their past contribution is big enough to give them the right to criticise current happenings in the company. I am sure there are the right channels/platforms for everyone to air their disappointments, but when you wash this linen in public you are possibly not doing it with the best intentions. If it’s the company that you fondly built, a place where you still have equity, would you want it to get tarnished by your public criticism?

Whenever I read of such happenings I feel the past leaderships have not found enough maturity to deal with the changes happening in the organisations they have moved on from. It appears that they lack trust in the very people they allowed to succeed, cannot let go of mistakes, and are only interested in the status quo. Or, they simply don’t have the patience to wait for a long period of time for success. The famous ad, ‘Keep Walking’, I think, is difficult to emulate in real life.

(The author is a prolific commentator on workplace dynamics. He was till recently the Managing Director of Kelly Services & Kelly OCG India and is now pursuing his entrepreneurial dreams.)

Published on February 15, 2017

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