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When the boss can’t let go

The toughest thing for a leader to do is let go. Succession planning is often the most contentious and difficult aspect for any company with an aging leader.

Whether your company is public or private, how you navigate succession could be the difference in your company’s long-term viability. I have dealt with numerous searches that were a direct result of poor succession. In the end, the story is pretty much the same: the current leader sabotaged the succession process.

Here are some tips for getting it right:

  • Start early. As soon as a new leader is in place, start the succession planning.
  • Formulate a plan. Have a written document that is available for all stakeholders to review.
  • Get perspective. Ask outsiders to weigh in on your plan. Most people are too close to the issue to have a clear perspective.
  • Have more than one successor identified. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Keep an open competition even if there is a clear successor.
  • Get the successors the coaching and training they need. Most leaders sabotage their successors in this area. As a leader, you goal is to make yourself irrelevant, not the other way around.
  • Even the leader needs a report card. Company founders are the worst offenders in this area. Allow your key managers or board to be part of the succession and performance-evaluation process.
  • Have a strategy. Make sure your leaders and successors understand and evaluate the company strategy.
  • Conduct a smart search. Use quality search firms to identify outsiders and evaluate insiders as part of the process.
  • Set clear criteria. Understand the criteria and attributes necessary for the job at hand and into the future.
  • Facilitate a smooth transition. Communicate often and consistently about the impending succession. Make sure you have buy-in from all stakeholders.
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