While it’s certainly human nature to focus on the here and now—relegating the future to the back burner—when it comes to operating a business successfully over the long term, it’s critical for leaders to choose and groom their successors. The fact is, the more valuable a leader is to his or her operation, the less valuable the business is.
With the goal of succession being a seamless transition, the best-case scenario is to be able to follow a carefully orchestrated plan to achieve that end. The alternative—having to respond to an unplanned event such as death, disability, divorce or discord—is beyond the scope of this article, but it can be said that having a trained successor in place can perhaps blunt the effect of such occurrences.
Leaders owe it to their clients to not just choose an heir apparent, but to help that person adopt a leadership role before the transition takes place. This is especially important when the successor is significantly younger than the individual whose shoes he or she will fill; in those cases, it’s even more critical for leaders to take steps to ensure their clients gain confidence in successors.
Actions that can be vital to take during the process of preparing successors include:
- Bringing them into important meetings
- Introducing them to top clients
- Giving them additional responsibility and authority
- Presenting them as a credible successor
- Supporting their role with the current team
- Helping them develop a successful communications style and a leadership presence
In family businesses, when it may be an adult child who needs to be elevated in the eyes of clients and the team as a worthy successor, leaders need to ensure their behavior is professional and doesn’t reflect the child-parent relationship. That means not being patronizing in either actions or tone of voice during public interactions—since that can prove harmful from both a client and team member perspective.
When a successor has been adequately prepared, there will be limited or no disruption when that person takes the reins—as both clients and team members will have had a chance to see the “new blood’s” competence in action. Adequate preparation includes having leaders follow the actions noted above as well as modeling the successor’s behavior for other people and publicly demonstrating their faith in his or her ability to take over.