Do you and your organisation approach succession planning proactively?Have you identified the person who will take over from you? And do they know?!
Professional athletes train hard. That’s a given. Of some we are in awe – take a bow Sir Andy Murray! And yet, putting the most hours in on the practice court does not guarantee success. This is a vital component of course; along with match fitness, and you only achieve that by playing competitive games. Only then, do you experience the nerves and adrenaline which can knock the stuffing out of you. Why, because now it’s for real and people are watching.
The same is true when you develop your leadership pipeline. We all need a successor; even more so where you occupy a senior role. Nevertheless, you can groom these individuals all you want and they may still come a cropper once they step into the spot light. Don’t underestimate how big the shoes you’re asking them to fill.
Throughout my salaried career the gap between my depth of experience and know-how, compared with that of my direct reports, was too big. It wasn’t for want of trying. When I recruited directly I often had to choose candidates who were a good cultural fit over their level of ambition. Either they valued other things over career progression or there wasn’t enough time to develop the breadth of skill set required.
I’ve worked with numerous leaders and managers who aspired to occupy the top job in their company. Some recognised, before it was too late thankfully, that they weren’t cut out to be Chief Executive Officer after all. They acknowledged that being a specialist in one area of management doesn’t guarantee success in a generalist role.
Others have experienced a massive learning curve whilst getting to grips with the position and what’s required of them. That they have navigated those challenges successfully is because they engaged in leadership development. To have relied on their individual capabilities, ambition and drive would have been a mistake. Entirely predictable of course; since most organisations take a reactionary approach to succession planning rather than see it as a long-term process.
This brings me full circle to my original point. Having a named successor in waiting is an essential first step. Now you must make sure that, when the time comes, they are fully equipped to take up the mantle. That means knowing in advance that they have the right combination of skills for the job; or the time and ability to develop them long before they are called into action.