The What's Next Weekend

By Marshall Goldsmith

When you’ve reached success, what’s your next step? You’ve arrived: is that all there is? It shouldn’t be: As I’ve heard, and as I’ve said, you can ‘be so much more.’ 

One of the most important parts of creating a fulfilling life, an earned life, is figuring out your path and sticking to it. How do you do that? How do you gain insights into the right next steps? In my coaching career, I have learned a lot from mentors, customers, friends, and teachers, and I have used several of them to formulate my coaching going forward. These are the concepts of: 

  • the referent group
  • the notion of feedforward
  • stakeholder-centered coaching
  • the business plan review
  • the “what’s next” weekend
  • daily questions
  • building a coaches community (called 100 coaches)

Here, I’d like to explore the notion of the “what’s next” weekend.

Around 2005, I started inviting a handful of clients to my home for two-day “What’s Next?” sessions to help them figure out the next phase of their lives.

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I’d kept in touch with most of my clients long after our one-on-one work was finished, all the way up to the inescapable day when they had to groom a successor and consider moving on. (By the way, my advice was always the same: Better to stay a year too short than a minute too long. In other words, leave now, while you’re at the top. Never wait for the board to ask you to go. And the candidates who are in line to succeed you, won’t resent you for it.) 

Even after they departed, I continued to be involved in helping them decide what to do next. I already knew that successful leaders have many options for their next steps: consulting, teaching, private equity, philanthropy, boards of directors, another CEO position, skiing in Aspen. But a full menu of options doesn’t make choosing easier. When you can do anything and no longer need the paycheck, it’s easy to stall in place, doing nothing. One client referred to it as “third-act trouble.” 

The descent from the summit is always more dangerous than the climb to the top. 

The more interesting revelation after a few installments of the “What’s Next?” weekend was how isolated many of the participants felt, and how eager they were to talk, especially the former CEOs. 

The top of the ladder is a lonely place. Few of these super-successful people had peers to whom they could talk candidly. 

The “What’s Next?” weekends provided them with a venue to talk with people they respected, and where they could talk about anything and everything. They could reveal that all of us have similar problems. And, most important, in the right environment, such as these weekends with a small group session featuring a gathering of people of varied backgrounds but similar situations, they are willing to open up and share their problems, their insights, ask questions, and hear advice from people like them. 

These weekends became the highlight of each year.

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