Are you on a leadership succession plan?  Do you have a succession plan of your own? What steps can you take to make sure you are on the leadership succession plan you want to be on?

I know, I know.

That’s a lot of questions.

But as a good leader with career aspirations and goals, all of those questions are important.  

Regardless of your industry or specialty area, if you have responsibility for managing people, a business or a major project, succession planning should be a priority.


What is a leadership succession plan?


Succession planning is a strategy for identifying and developing current and future leaders in your organization.

It is referred to as a ‘plan’ to denote proactive and thoughtful actions to ensure strong leaders are prepared and in place in any future scenario.

A viable succession plan addresses who will take charge if or when the current leader is no longer there.  

Although one can not prepare for every business scenario, succession planning identifies who is capable, willing, and ready to take over the team, project or organization in lieu of the current leader.

But don’t let the reference to “planning” mislead you.

For most organizations, the succession “plan” is not formal or documented, but rather discussed and decided amongst a few key people.

In other cases – usually with larger companies, particularly those with boards of directors or shared owners – the succession planning process can be more complex.

But whether formal or informal, the end result of identifying viable options to take on new leadership roles within the organization (as well as development required to ensure new leaders will be ready for additional responsibilities) is the same.


Why is it important?


A leadership succession plann helps to guard against several risks to the business.  It protects the organization’s employees, customers and/or shareholders from any significant disruptions to:

  • Ongoing operations
  • Retaining institutional knowledge
  • Leadership vision and transitions
  • Employee productivity

All of which can be quite costly in terms of time and money lost.


What steps do you need to take in terms of leadership succession planning?


Interestingly, because you are a leadership yourself, you are in a unique position where you should be focused on two things:

  1. Whether you have been identified as a prospective leader on an existing succession plan?, and
  2. Developing a viable succession plan for your current role.

Let’s tackle #1 first, since many leaders tend to get uncomfortable with this question.


#1 – Are you on a succession plan (or two? or three?)? 


If you are interested in having a bigger, broader or different leadership role in the future in your current organization (or any organization for that matter), you want to know whether the organization views you as having the potential to take on a different role.

The challenge is that most organizations are not as transparent with this type of information as they should be.  

Primarily because they don’t want to take the chance that being on a leadership succession plan would be misinterpreted as the organization committing to giving a specific role to you in the future.

Since no one can predict the future, that would not be a smart move.

Other reasons companies are hesitant to broadly communicate succession plans is because it could potentially alienate or demoralize other employees who are not on the succession plan, but who want to be. 

This could lead to people becoming very dissatisfied on the job, or even quitting.


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Leaders Who Want To Grow Need To Know If They Are On Succession Plans


But as a leader who wants to grow your career, it is important for you to always have a clear understanding of what prospects you have inside and outside of your organization.

Which means that you will need to have some important conversations with your boss and others to a) clearly articulate your career aspirations and b) find out if the company sees your potential similarly and whether you’ve been named on a succession plan.

You can probably see why this makes some leaders uncomfortable.

But from my perspective it is always best to face the reality of the situation head on.  

Worst case scenario is that you learn the aspirations you have for your career don’t align with plans your company has.  

Under those circumstances, you are left with three options: 1) invest the time and energy to change the company’s perception of you, 2) look for a new company whose vision for you and your skills already align with your own, or 3) continue in your current role and tamper your aspirations.


#2 – Developing a succession plan for the leadership role you are in now.


As a leader of people or an organization, one of your greatest responsibilities is to determine who could succeed you if or when your current leadership role is vacant again.

Now, it is true that you may not have the final decision in terms of who assumes your leadership responsibilities when you move on.  Maybe that decision is ultimately your boss’ or someone elses.

However, given that you know the role so well, you are uniquely positioned to truly understand what it takes to be successful in the job.  

Thus your perspective on who may be most qualified and ready to take it on in your absence is important.

If you are a leader who is interested in the continued success of the team or the organization, it would be irresponsible for you not to have a succession plan in place. Or at a minimum, to have a recommendation for prospective candidates to succeed you.


How I’ve Handled Succession Planning


In all of my leadership roles in the past 20 years, I’ve been lucky enough to identify my successor.  

Which frankly allowed me to minimize my own concerns over leaving – whether my departure was planned or sudden.

In most instances, my successors were internal and I proactively made recommendations that were accepted by those more senior than me.

However, two times in the past two decades the successors I identified didnt pan out.  Either they weren’t ready to take on a large leadership role by the time I needed to move on or there simply were no viable internal candidates.

In both of those instances, I campaigned to either lead or be on the committee to search externally for my replacement.  

You’re probably thinking – “why the hell would she do all of that?”. LOL.

Well, first- I have always taken my leadership roles very seriously.  Whether I am a leader of 1 person or 500 – I don’t take it lightly when people put their trust in me. 

And second, I put a lot of sweat equity into building strong teams and delivering results.  So when I leave a position, I want to do everything within my power to guard against all of that unraveling when I am no longer there.

Even more reasons why every leader should strive to choose their own viable successor or two.


Final Thoughts.


If you envision a successful leadership career for yourself that includes broader, more complex or more senior leadership roles, then knowing if you are on a succession plan and having a succession plan (simple template) in place for your role is extremely important. 

Knowing and acting on succession plans that you are on or that you create is yet another way for you to take control of your own career, rather than waiting for others to do so for you.

Remember, you are responsible for your own career.  Which sometimes means pursuing uncomfortable options, if it allows us to grow.

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