How do you know how you're going to feel when you're the president and you decide to step down or retire? Do those feelings change if you have an ongoing role in the institution?
I thought I had this figured out. I had been president of Tyndale University College & Seminary for 14 years during a rebuilding phase. I was 67 and tired. I had lost interest in running an organization. It seemed a perfect time to hand it over to a younger leader.
|At his retirement dinner in May 2009, Brian Stiller posed for a photograph with his son Murray, his daughter Muriel, and his wife Lily. Seated at front is his mother, Mildred Stiller, who died in December at age 97.
Tyndale had just purchased a 56-acre campus, and we had completed about 65 percent of a campaign to raise 58 million Canadian dollars. Since I had been deeply involved in arranging the purchase and had led the capital campaign, the board asked if I would stay on to continue working on the campaign and help introduce donors to the new president.
What I wasn't prepared for was how my sense of self — my identity and my self-worth — would be challenged. After leading ministries for more than 40 years, not leading brought its own kind of tension.
For one thing, I hadn't anticipated that retiring makes you feel like the good you've done is behind you. It makes you fear that obsolescence is ahead. And raising funds for an organization you're no longer leading can be awkward. It took some time for my apprehensions to settle. After all, I didn't consider myself truly a fundraiser. To be sure, all my life I had been raising funds for organizations I had led. But to be out of leadership with a "fundraiser" nametag was something I didn't appreciate at first. In my experience, transition hasn't been easy, and it hasn't been predictable. And in cases like mine — in which I stayed on staff, but with another role — both the retiree and the institution can be vulnerable.
I have learned a few lessons.
Most importantly, I have learned to be on the watch for possible misunderstandings. I think it's important for a retired president and the new administration to keep communications first-hand and not allow them to be filtered through committees or staff members. Be explicit about how you value the other person. As a retiree, see the ongoing role as an extension of what you have lived for years to accomplish. And know that management and board will quickly move on, not seeking your counsel and guidance. It isn't that they don't appreciate what you think — it's just that they have to run the institution without you.
In time I have discovered joy in my real but more limited role. I have been able to participate in the vision that I had helped create. Assisting the board and management team in underwriting its goals has been rewarding in itself. And my slightly more leisured schedule, visiting donors and finding their interests and hopes, allows me the space to discover where the donors' interests match the needs of the school.
I'm grateful to our board of governors for allowing me the opportunity to bring my gifts, contacts, and passion to their agenda.