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Interchange - August 2023

We are looking forward to getting together with all of you next week…especially after our long summer break!  A few of you have suggested the topic of succession, so we are going to delve into that in this next session.

Here is one of the suggestions we received:  “Active succession planning even though key leaders are not ready to leave yet.  It’s really a desire to retain and engage the next level of talent without making promises, and not disrespecting the current leadership.”

Certainly this refers to CEO succession and the succession of other key leaders within your team. Many leaders tend to think of succession as something that's triggered by an upcoming retirement or departure of a key leader.  Although this is the typical trigger it is a reactive rather than a proactive trigger. I think looking at proactive succession more broadly is a more productive view: How do we create a body of upcoming leaders throughout the organization who are able to step up into the next level of leadership?  If we look back in history at General Motors, which by the 1960s was the largest manufacturing firm in the world, one of the strategies that was responsible for their success was the philosophy of Alfred Sloan it's CEO: At General Motors you couldn't be promoted unless you had developed a replacement for yourself. This kept aspiring leaders eyes focused on developing their people. Although this example is sort of ancient history it is nonetheless relevant for today's world.

Creating a culture of personal growth where everyone from frontline leaders all the way up to the CEO see their primary job as developing their people not only nurtures effective succession, it also makes for a more effective organization where employees appreciate the commitment to their growth and career success. In fact one of our clients just last week told me that in exit interviews those that are leaving are leaving leaders or supervisors who are not focused and their growth and success and those areas and programs where retention is high is where the leaders are focused on their people's growth she's seeing a direct correlation in the data.

We assert that any leader’s first responsibility is to grow their people;  To lead to manage and to coach. This is job one. However most of us in leadership positions got here by being great and getting stuff done and when put into a leadership position many become super-doers. Creating this shift from my job is to get stuff done to my job is to grow people is critical and difficult. We understand the dilemma, there is a lot of stuff to get done; emails grant requests funder demands… all sorts of things. And those things do need to get done. This mental shift is analogous to being a parent. As a parent we all know that our first job is to raise successful kids. And there's a home to maintain, meals to fix, shopping to do, finances to attend to… lots of stuff. And a good parent knows the job one is to raise a successful child and they stay focused on helping their child to grow while doing all of this stuff.  Creating a personal growth culture in the home.

So here are the questions for us to think about in preparation for our discussion:

  1. How are you thinking currently about succession?

  2. What steps are you taking personally, or could you take, to grow potential successors?

  3. What are you doing, or could you do,  to foster support and encourage your leaders, from frontline leaders to C-Suite, in growing their people? 

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