Craig Dearden-Phillips: I'm going to be a former chief executive - and it hurts

Our columnist is reinventing himself

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

Any day now, I will no longer officially be the chief executive of Speaking Up. Indeed, I have already relinquished the day-to-day running of the organisation to my superb replacement, Jonathan Senker. I will remain as chair, of course, but in a strictly non-executive capacity. No back-seat driving from me.

Handing over the reins has, in some respects, been surprisingly easy. When you are confident of the person coming in, it's actually quite easy - almost a relief, if truth be told, as the Atlas-like burden of the job is lifted from your shoulders.

What isn't quite so easy is where this leaves you. If you are no longer a chief executive, who are you? When you have the job, it takes up most of your time - and head space. Then the emails and phone calls suddenly stop. Your views are no longer eagerly sought. You are a bit like a character in a soap opera who has just been killed off. The show goes on just as before - without you.

One shouldn't be unsettled by all this. But I was. Status is a bit like good health - when you have it you sort of take it for granted, but when it is gone you miss it dreadfully. You chide yourself for not having appreciated what you had, and fret about getting back to normal again.

Then there is reinvention to think about. Probably the most challenging part of all this for me is that I am now - well, nothing yet. I am without a calling card. I am no longer Mr Speaking Up; that mantle is no longer mine to call my own. And one shouldn't dine out on long-past glories - our sector has enough people doing that already.

The worst time is at events - when you're asked what you do. You realise, when you don't really have a proper job, just how often one is asked this simple question. I've tried a few things, to see what happens. Say "freelancing" and people hear "journalist" and move quickly on. Say "consultant" and they immediately find ways of diverting the talk from their organisation. Say "nothing just now" and people stop smiling, imagining you have cracked up, and make a beeline for a well-known chief executive.

So what am I going to be doing? In truth, this and that. The chair role, of course. A bit of writing, a bit of coaching and a bit of consultancy; the odd keynote speech and some local politician stuff. Spending more time with my kids. It's all agreeable enough. But even in anticipation, it feels like the life of a retiree. Soon, the itch will need to be soothed. A new job or a new venture. A new me. Time to shed my skin.

Craig Dearden-Phillips writes in a personal capacity.


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