Succession Planning

Succession planning is one of the most challenging parts of any leadership position.  Strategies for finding and growing someone to take your own place.

North American July 6, 2020

Succession planning is one of the most challenging parts of any leadership position.  Finding and growing someone to take your own place is not easy and can even be threatening.  Some leaders are afraid to recruit promising talent as people may compare any new person with themselves and make them seem less attractive, or even appear to provide a current alternative to their own leadership position.

And yet for any legacy to endure, it must transition to new leaders.  Your best administrative decisions, your own new initiatives, your development strategies, can all be jeopardized by a change in direction by your successor.  It is critical that you are concerned about who comes next.

The big question is how to ensure the quality and effectiveness of who follows you.  It is often true that having a leader publicly “anoint” his or her own successor is the sure kiss of death for that person. So, your tactics must usually be more subtle, quietly working behind the scenes to provide this new person with the relationships, the knowledge of the enterprise and its workings, and an awareness of where the “skeletons” are, to make them both acceptable and ready to step into a leadership position.

Preparing a successor in this way requires strategic thinking and an openness to run some risks.  Placing this person on key committees, letting them take the lead in major areas of responsibility, and occasionally praising them in public, can help prepare for their transition.  It also means counseling them on things to do and to avoid, helping them interpret reactions from others, and helping them navigate through various roadblocks and questions, are all part of their preparation.

Finally, when the transition time has come, being able to step back and “bless or be silent” when the power shift occurs, is always essential.  Too often we see former leaders still trying to “pull the strings” of power as they seek to preserve or shift the decisions of the future.  If we have done our succession planning well, we can step back in confidence and give our successor the benefit of making her or his own decisions when confronted with the new facts and faces of the future.

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Richard, MD, DrPH, is currently serving as the president of Loma Linda University Health in California, USA.

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