One of the most common problems in organizations – or across human systems generally – is that the current generation in charge does not feel the next generation is ready to take over AND they are doing little to get them better prepared.

This not ill-willed. It has more to do with the discomfort people in charge have with their mortality. As we have learned, again and again, we have a finite amount of time in this life. For most people, life comes in three big chunks – Becoming, Performing and Handing Off. These phases exist in all systems – families, organizations, and communities. Let’s look at each briefly.

Becoming is all about learning, growing, mastering – everything from who you are to what you do. In the US, it is assumed this happens between birth and the age of 21. Most of us have discovered – who we were at 21, wasn’t a finished product at all. Rather it was a messy foundation on which lots of other learning had to occur. In my life, it was about “Failing Forward.” That is – trying things, failing, sometimes miserably, but learning from those experiences and progressing. I don’t know about you but there were several lessons I needed three or four tries to learn. (And I suspect I may still be in the midst of one or two.)

Performing is about the exercise of capabilities to create value for others – the fruits of your learning and experience. How soon this happens and what the rewards for such are the center of the generational differences we see in the workplace today. The idea of “paying your dues” has lost its luster among new workers though many people my age cling to it as “good enough for me…”

Handing Off is about letting go – of what you have built, what you have been, of how things have been done. It is eagerly anticipated by younger generations and dreaded by older. The heart of the problem is the failure to separate self from the role. The idea that you are the boss, the president, the founder is flawed. Those are just roles you play. Handing off is about allowing others to perform as you once were allowed. It is about what’s next, not what’s been. If your legacy is being indispensable, both you and your successors are doomed. If instead, your legacy is about opportunity – you will have left something that could be endless in its duration.

As Buddha said, “The trouble is, you think you have time.”