Growing Our Successors – A Succession Planning Strategy

The issue of succession planning is a topic which requires a substantial intellectual dexterity and an authentic willingness to bring along team members in a way that accelerates their upward mobility. Our topic today talks about the conscious decision on your part, as a leader, to commit to grow your own staff members as future leaders.

The adage that it “takes a leader to raise a leader” underscores the need to consciously groom your successor(s) even though the effort may be a source of potential discomfort for you as you may be “growing your future competitors internally”. What is essential is the development of a mind-set that your greatest contribution to your organization is the evolution and development of future leaders and gaining confidence that your ability to do so makes you more valuable to the corporation.

To paraphrase Vince Lombardi on winning; “Getting good leaders for your team isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Here are some initial thoughts relating to being a leader that creates future leaders:

  • Connect with your team.
  • The more informed and knowledgeable you are about your people, the more effective and successful you will be.
  • Make your interactions meaningful and ensure that you add value to every contact with members of your team and other members of the organization.
  • If you don’t connect with people you can’t develop people.
  • If you don’t develop people you will not be successful.

There are many well defined leadership success models in corporate America. I especially like the model which emphasizes three major components: Strategic Focus, Business Success and Building Commitment. The major tenets of a well-crafted successor development strategy focus on:

  • Developing talent
  • Leadership presence
  • Inspiring trust
  • Engaging others

Consider getting together with your team members to should consider what the implications of those competencies are and how each of these leadership qualities are really the essence of an exceptional successor development strategy.

A critical component of your Succession Planning initiative emphasizes the Law of Empowerment which is: “Only secure leaders give power to others; the only way to make yourself indispensable is to make yourself dispensable”. Only empowered people can reach their potential. Espousing this reality is the essence for evolving your successors. It is the most ethical and unselfish approach that should mark your team’s willingness to be of assistance to one another. You, as the team leader, need to be the primary catalyst for empowerment and development with your people because when a leader cannot or will not empower others, that leader creates barriers within the organization that people cannot overcome. If the barriers remain long enough, people either give up or, if they can, they move to another organization where they can maximize their potential.

It is important to have team meetings that discuss the building of commitment and the Laws of Empowerment. Such discussions define for the group as a whole how they wish to be led. They become catalysts for their own growth and facilitators of their fellow team members and the team as a whole. Having a discussion about the topic allows you to ask four questions:

  1. Do you agree that the only way to become indispensable is to become dispensable? Discuss your rationale and the reasoning for this reality with your team.
  2. Why do many managers disregard the Law of Empowerment?
  3. How has a leader’s resistance to the Law of Empowerment affected you and your teams in the past?
  4. In your past, in what ways has a leader empowered you and what was the end result?

It would seem intuitively obvious that managers should, therefore, be developing their successors – but many do not and, for the following reasons:

Desire for Job Security: A weak leader worries that if he/she develops subordinates, the leader will become dispensable. The truth is that the only way to make yourself indispensable is to make yourself dispensable, as we mentioned earlier. If you are able to continually empower others and help them develop so they become capable of taking over your job, you’ll become so valuable to the organization that you become indispensable. This is the great paradox of the Law of Empowerment. (Taken from The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell).

Resistance to Change: By its nature, empowerment brings constant change, because it encourages people to grow and innovate. Change is the price of progress.

Lack of Self-Worth: Many people gain their personal value and esteem from their work or positions. Threaten to change either of them, and you threaten their self-worth. Conversely, to those who have confidence in themselves, change is a stimulus because they believe one person can make a difference and influence what goes on around them. These are the “doers” and “motivators” – they are The Empowerers.

In a similar context, “Great things can happen when you don’t care who gets the credit.” (Mark Twain). Going one step further, the greatest things happen only when you give others the credit. That is the essence of the Law of Empowerment.

It is, therefore, a primary mandate for you, as a leader, to create an exceptional environment for your team where the leader shares vision, offers incentives, encourages creativity, allows risks, and provides accountability. If an organization has great leaders and they are “reproducing” themselves the leadership culture continues to grow and evolve and get stronger. This process may take a lot of hard work. It takes your precious time, energy and resources but it causes the team to become highly competent, progressive, cohesive and a force to be recognized within your organization and its defined marketplace.

Two questions that you may wish to use as topics in your team meetings:

  1. During our own careers, how have we benefited from the developmental help of other leaders?
  2. If it is true that we reproduce what we are, what are the best qualities we want to develop in our own successors?

When these two questions are answered clearly and shared by your team members, make those responses hallmarks of your teams personal and organizational development process which is to be clearly understood as an on-going process which is revisited in one-on-one meetings, team sessions and any time Successor Development is a topic for consideration within your team.

PACES, LLC has been a key advisor and developer of Succession Planning programs for a wide variety of its clients over the years. We ask that you consider our unique, intensive experience in the Successor Development field. Please contact us in helping to evolve approaches which can accelerate impactful succession planning in your company.


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