LESSONS ON HOW TO RETIRE A book on the departures of CEOs has something to teach all of us. And not just about retirement, but about life and work as well.
By RODERICK GILKEY RODERICK GILKEY is a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of organization and management at Emory business school in Atlanta. REPORTER ASSOCIATE Jacob Park

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Should we really feel sorry for a million-dollar-a-year CEO who finally has to retire, doubtless with an enormous pension and probably a fat consulting deal to boot? Well, maybe we should. Deep down we all agree there's much more to life than profits and perks, and it turns out that successful CEOs are sometimes the most pathetically ill-prepared to face that fact. Comforting as the material trappings may be, many top-level retirees feel they know the devil that drove Eastman Kodak founder George Eastman to shoot himself at age 78, leaving only a brief note: ''My work is done, why wait?'' Yes, life at the top is lonely, but Jeffrey Sonnenfeld's The Hero's Farewell (Oxford University Press, $24.95) shows that stepping down from the top can be far lonelier. An old Spanish proverb reminds us that ''the road can be better than the inn,'' and many CEOs facing retirement discover its truth each year. The last step in a CEO's lifelong journey of accomplishment may be the most perilous of all because it demands that he do something he hasn't done in perhaps 40 years: create a new sense of self and find a new basis of personal significance and worth. Describing how various chief executives did or didn't accomplish that, The Hero's Farewell becomes more than a book about CEOs. At times of transition we all have to re-create ourselves and redefine our sense of purpose and meaning. And those times of transition are growing more frequent -- Americans go through an average of three to four career changes in a lifetime. In other words, this is a book about everybody who works. Sonnenfeld, an associate professor at the Harvard business school, makes an important observation about the challenge of retirement: How CEOs meet it has nothing to do with their industry or management style and everything to do with their concept of themselves. On this basis he defines four types of CEO retirees: -- Monarchs leave only when they die or are overthrown in a palace coup. Examples: Gulf & Western's Charles Bludhorn, Boston Consulting Group's Bruce Henderson. Having invested themselves fully in their public lives, they have little appetite for managing their private lives. Revealing fact: Of 100 recently retired FORTUNE 500 CEOs Sonnenfeld surveyed, monarchs were twice as likely as the others to report having done ''no preparation for retirement.'' -- Generals depart, but soon undermine their successors and try to return in glory. Think of ITT's Harold Geneen or CBS's William Paley. Like the monarchs, they are virtually one with their careers and separate from them only painfully. They seem to feel that they are being thrown naked into a cold, empty wilderness. Like monarchs, they struggle with the world in Lear-like tragedy. For these reasons monarchs and generals deal with succession by denying and obstructing it. -- Ambassadors leave gracefully and don't interfere with their successors but remain available to help them. IBM's Thomas J. Watson Jr. is perhaps the standout example. Others include Du Pont's Irving Shapiro and Ogilvy & Mather's David Ogilvy. -- Governors make a clean break with their employers. It's so long and on to other things, perhaps another company, charities, or government. John Swearingen left Standard Oil of Indiana in 1983, then took over the troubled Continental Illinois Bank in 1984 and left three years later after bringing in a successor, Thomas Theobald of Citicorp. Thomas Carroll stepped down at Lever Brothers in 1980 and took over the International Executive Service Corps, a nonprofit organization. Among the lessons to be learned is that corporate heroes are considerably more vulnerable and dependent than we might have thought. For those who achieve heroic stature by cultivating their public image at the expense of their private self, retirement becomes tantamount to exile, and holding on is equivalent to survival. Lacking a realistic vision of the future, or the desire to create one, the monarch or the general can become a rudderless Odysseus in search of an invisible Ithaca. Sadly, heroes who are unable to depart or to abandon their heroic mission stand to lose their heroic stature as well as the dignity and admiration they desperately sought to retain. Their tragedy is an inability to do for themselves what they did so well for others by creating and realizing visions of the future. In contrast, the departure styles of ambassadors and governors provide hopeful models. These leaders can deal more effectively with the challenge of their changed status because their self-concept is different from that of the monarch or the general. Ambassadors and governors do not require the external trappings of power and recognition. Their sense of personal significance is stable and comes from within, so their need for the assurance of continued leadership is less. People with well-developed psychological resources that provide a consistent sense of self-esteem -- healthy narcissism, in psychoanalytic parlance -- are better able to manage the discontinuities of change. Their core of self-confidence gives them the flexibility and resilience to greet changing circumstances as alluring opportunities. THIS PSYCHOLOGICAL strength lets a CEO experience work as a form of self- expression rather than a quest for self-esteem. Thus such senior statesmen as Watson, Shapiro, and Ogilvy re-create themselves and maintain a sense of purpose and dignity in a changing world. In an apparent paradox, their ability to give up or redefine their heroic mission enables them to maintain their heroic stature. Sonnenfeld's views into these privileged private lives are filled with compassion and insight. Through his interviews and assessments of an impressive array of affluent and powerful Americans, 350 in all, Sonnenfeld captures the individuality of each person's struggle with departure without losing sight of the lessons learned about the personal challenge of managing change and maintaining continuity. The Hero's Farewell helps us recognize that the ultimate mission of the hero is to depart -- perhaps the most difficult task of all. In coming to understand the process of retirement once described by GE's legendary Reg Jones as a transition from ''Who's Who to who's he?,'' we realize the surprising extent to which monarchs and generals become dependent on their corporate environments. The glamour and power of leaders can obscure our ability to see how profoundly they need public recognition and their overarching reliance on external sources of affirmation to maintain inner feelings of worth. The metaphor of addiction may seem extreme, but it is perfectly apt. To the extent that their self-esteem derives from recognition rather than personal sources of satisfaction, they become addicted to the organizations and individuals over whom they exercise power. At worst, this coexistence of power and dependence can become a deadly mix for corporations and leaders unable to disengage from one another. In this context it is interesting to note that the prepublication title of this book was The Hero's Escape. OF COURSE the ambassadors' and governors' lack of dependence on their organizations is just what allows them to make continuing contributions to their companies to the benefit of all. Sonnenfeld's descriptions of these differences in departure style provide insight into the essence of power: It is exercised most effectively by leaders who can exist most comfortably without it. This book ends, appropriately, with a challenge -- either we face up to the need to redefine and re-create ourselves in our advancing years or we suffer from self-induced misfortune and embittered alienation. The hero's dilemma is really everyone's choice. We too must choose between the comfort of past self- concepts and the challenge of defining ourselves anew. It is rare for a book to provide absorbing biography, compelling social commentary, critical historical observation, or vital personal counsel. The Hero's Farewell does all of this and does it well.

BOX: EXCERPT: As men and women take high corporate office today, they are expected to play a kind of heroic role in guiding their firms. But when the time comes to step aside, many are beset with fears: Leaving office means a loss of heroic stature, a plunge into the abyss of insignificance, a kind of mortality.

BOX: A leader's late-career self-image, expressed in the departure style, fundamentally influences the livelihood of many. Such far-ranging aspects of corporate performance as the emphasis of sales over profits and the quality of management development are affected by how a leader departs.