How departing leaders can pass along their wisdom to employees – Hal Gregersen

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

Hal Gregersen, Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center

From Harvard Business Review

Earlier this spring I had the chance to witness two of the “farewell talks” that Ed Catmull gave to the people of Pixar. Catmull, the company’s cofounder and long-time leader (and also president of Disney Animation Studios since the Disney acquisition of Pixar over a decade ago) had announced his retirement in late 2018. He chose to spend his last day on Pixar’s Emeryville campus not being celebrated by his colleagues but, instead, sharing thoughts about the challenges they would face in the years to come.

Each “farewell talk” was a separate, hour-long session with a different team in the company, but the content wasn’t tailored to specific departments. Catmull shared — over and over again — what he believed the whole company should be thinking about as it looks ahead.

Catmull has always been unusually reflective about the challenges of leading creative organizations, and generous in sharing the practices he finds effective. In his 2014 book Creativity, Inc. (which he’s now updating with new learnings), for example, he shares useful insights and learnings aimed at helping other leaders succeed. In his farewell talks, he showed the same level of thoughtfulness. He decided to:

Make the sessions inclusive. It’s not uncommon for departing CEOs to have transitional talks with their top teams. But how many consider it important to talk with every team in the company? Catmull talked to everyone, including hundreds of people who had never sat in meetings focused on high-level strategic issues — but whose efforts make Pixar films possible. As a result, his parting act was immensely unifying.

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