- October 10, 2022
It is human nature to focus on the here and now — relegating the future to the back burner. However, when it comes to operating a business successfully over the long term, it's critical for leaders to choose and groom their successors effectively. While identifying the right talent and selecting someone who has high potential and can assume a key leadership role is essential, it is not the most important step in the succession process. Ensuring the success of your future choice is far more critical to your company.
Unfortunately, I have witnessed many leaders knowingly or unknowingly sabotage the success of their successor. The reasons for this sabotage are varied. Many leaders are ambivalent about creating a succession plan. They have difficulty thinking about letting go of their current role and responsibilities. They might not have a clear sense of what's next in their life, may be fearful of those prospects, or truly don't believe anyone can replace them.
However, if you are thinking about the future of your company, clients and family, that is flawed thinking. For the impact of your contributions to your organization to be sustained over time — or for the company to be sold for the financial well-being of your family — you as the leader need to go. The fact is, the more valuable a leader is to his or her operation, the less valuable the business is.
With the goal of succession being a seamless transition, the best-case scenario is to follow a carefully orchestrated plan to achieve that end. The alternative, having to respond to an unplanned event such as death, disability, divorce or discord, is beyond the scope of this article, but it can be said that having a trained successor in place can perhaps blunt the effect of such occurrences.
There needs to be processes, policies and protocols in place that allow your business to operate without you. Furthermore, the next person to take the reins should be allowed to make changes that will allow your organization to remain agile and responsive to the economy and trends in your industry.
Leaders owe it to their clients not just to choose an heir apparent, but to help that person adopt a leadership role before the transition takes place. This is especially important when the successor is significantly younger than the individual whose shoes he or she will fill; in those cases, it's even more critical for leaders to take steps to ensure their clients gain confidence in successors. Change is not easy, but for there to be a smooth transition you need to shift your thinking about yourself and your role. It helps to have a clear vision of the outcome of this process. Take some time to allow yourself to imagine what an “ideal” succession might look like, for both the company and you as an individual. If you can envision a positive future, it will help to reduce the resistance about engaging in the required changes and behaviors.
Some of the actions that can be vital to take during the process of preparing successors include:
Bringing them into important meetings;
Introducing them to top clients;
Giving them additional responsibility and authority;
Presenting them as a credible successor;
Supporting their role with the current team;
Helping them develop a successful communications style and a leadership presence.
In family businesses, when it may be an adult child who needs to be elevated in the eyes of clients and the team as a worthy successor, leaders need to ensure their behavior is professional and doesn't reflect the child-parent relationship. That means not being patronizing in either actions or tone of voice during public interactions — because that can prove harmful from both a client and team member perspective.
When a successor has been adequately prepared, there will be limited or no disruption when that person takes the reins — both clients and team members have had a chance to see the “new blood's” competence in action. Adequate preparation includes having leaders follow the actions noted above as well as modeling the successor's behavior for other people and publicly demonstrating their faith in his or her ability to take over.
The transition of a successor into the primary leader needs to be a fluid process. Not only must you make adjustments to your plan when needed, but you need to be open and honest about the power and impact you have on the outcome. By committing to the success of your successor, you can not only secure your legacy, but fulfill your obligation to the future of the people you care about: your clients, your team and your family.
Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group. She has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]