Although your parents might not be willing to discuss their fears with you, they'll likely be amenable to discussing more practical issues, such as whether they want to continue to be involved in the business, perhaps in a day-to-day management situation. If that's the case, there are many roles senior family members can assume after officially stepping down. Many family businesses ask retiring senior leaders to remain as chairpersons of their boards; others enlist them as consultants. Their experience and expertise can be invaluable, especially if they understand that their advice and counsel don't mean they're in charge.
If maintaining their status within the community is important to them, encourage your parents to get involved now so they're in a position to step up their involvement after they retire. "They [just don't] realize how transferable their skills are and how they can build on what they already know," says Lansberg. Assure them that all the knowledge they've gained from running the family business makes them important either as consultants to or on the advisory board of other family businesses, or as leaders of other organizations, including not-for-profits. Volunteering is another great way for ex-owners to use their time. Among the organizations eager for their help: SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), which provides management and professional know-how to start-up and existing small companies, and the National Executive Service Corps, which provides management assistance to nonprofit community-based organizations.
You probably know some of your parents' dreams. You also probably know that because they've been leading the business for so many years, they haven't fulfilled those dreams. Neveu, for example, always wanted to learn more about computer drafting. So he started taking evening courses toward a computer drafting certificate a year before he retired; he recently finished. He enjoys this new skill and says he'll use it to help out in the business during his retirement years. Perhaps your parents have always dreamed of traveling but never had time for it before. Encourage them to start now. If they've always wanted to try something new, like playing the piano, urge them to begin lessons before retirement to see if it's something they really want to pursue.
"It's awkward for a successful business head to start career-planning now," says Lansberg, "but it's indispensable." He says the sharper incoming entrepreneurs are about the alternatives, the better their parents will be able to make the transition. And the better their transitions, the easier it will be for the successor generation to assume leadership.