At a Crossroads Late in Your Career? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am at a crossroads in my career. I am 63 years old and have held positions of plant manager and operations manager. I currently serve as director of operations at a company that offers overhead crane and hoist design, manufacturing, and maintenance services. My past has been challenging; I have reinvented myself a few times, turned a company around that was failing, etc.

My current situation is with a family-owned business where the entire family is employed. The owner is becoming less and less engaged and seems to be losing interest in day-to-day operations. When he does check in, his decisions are less than sound. His kids are in their thirties and do not yet seem to have the skills or experience needed to oversee and manage the company.

I have been invited to relocate from the midwestern US to Florida to run a fabricating company. However, due to the poor health of some people in charge of this potential opportunity, I have been told to sit tight until they are ready to decide. I don’t get many opportunities like this, and it seems ideal for my varied background and niche skill set.

My issue is that I am so driven, I feel I need to make something happen. I am a Christian and pray daily, and I know God has a plan for me.

I guess I am looking for your advice on the direction I should take. Is there something I can read, look up, sign up for, or attend to further my passion for my career?

Thank you for your time, Madeleine.



Dear Impatient,

I think you have three choices here:

Stay where you are and advocate with the owner to hire an experienced and skilled CEO to guide the business into the future.

This choice would allow you to stay and continue to make a contribution without uprooting your whole life. You might even consider putting yourself up for the job of CEO. Although you may not feel that you have the requisite skills, many CEOs do come from operations. If you choose this path, you will want to be prepared with clear examples to support your assertion that none of the kids are ready to step into leading the company. I can’t imagine that the owner wants to see the whole enterprise crash and burn any more than you do. Only you can decide if you think you are signed up to lead at that level.

Stay where you are and advocate with the owner to appoint you as mentor/ advisor/ coach to the most competent of the family members in the next generation.

This choice holds some of the advantages of the first choice, but this one would allow you to avoid taking on all of the responsibility while still making a huge contribution guiding young people. For this one, you would need a clear description of the job, not to mention the buy-in from the second generation. They would have to not only be aware of their lack of readiness but also possess the humility to accept your influence. To be fair, this would be a rare and glorious exception, but, hey, it could happen. Of course, you would need to listen to your heart to know if being in service that way would suit your temperament. This, too, would be a form of leadership.

Take a deep breath and decide to wait for the folks in Florida to make a decision while you research other opportunities.

This may be the best option. It sounds as if you have already written off the owner and the kids in your current situation and are ready to jump ship. This choice would just require a little patience. Passion is a very useful quality until it causes us to jump the gun and make rash decisions. You would want to make sure that you are driving your passion instead of letting it drive you. It might be appropriate to check in with the Florida people to get a sense of their timeline—they can’t expect you to wait forever. In the meantime, you may not think there are many potential opportunities for someone with your background, but excellence in operations does translate well across industries, so there may be more than you think.

I can’t tell you what direction to take, but you mention that you have a relationship with God, so I encourage you to spend some time in prayer asking for input on this. My experience is that regardless of religious affiliation, when we ask for guidance, it is often offered. We aren’t always listening when the answers come, though, and we don’t always like the answers.

I hope that some of these ideas are useful, or, even better, that they spark a new idea or insight for you.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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