Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Preparing Your Successor for Success

In most cases, I believe that hiring an executive coach to assist with this process can be very useful. However, you as the leader need to be responsible for the entire process. You know what it takes to be the next leader of your company (or division, or unit, or team) even more than the very best behavioral coach.

I'll share a few ideas with you here about the coaching process. Review them, do what works for you, and if you think it will help, hire an outside coach to do the rest.

Assuming that your successor has some work to do to improve her stakeholder relationships, that she is motivated to change, and that she will be given a fair chance to do so, let's get started. (If these three things are not in place, reconsider your choice of successor!)

First, your incoming leader needs to know that her behavior will matter a lot to the people she is leading. They will be listening to her, watching her, and they will care deeply what she does. Her best chance of success is to learn how to act like a leader before she gets the job, not after.

To help her learn the role of the leader, involve key stakeholders to determine the strengths and challenges she faces. There are a few reasons to do this:

  • She will need the support of these key stakeholders if the "succession" is going to be a success. Your perceptions may completely miss the important input of stakeholders who may be better positioned to point out things that are not in your area of expertise.

  • Your successor will learn much more if she gets input from you and her key stakeholders. Learning from multiple sources is often far more effective than learning from one person.

  • Stakeholders who help your successor become psychologically involved in her success and thus are more likely to want to see her succeed.

You can also use these meetings to encourage key stakeholders to support your successor by:

  • Being open-minded.

  • Focusing on the future, not the past.

  • Being helpful and supportive, not critical or judgmental.

  • Telling the truth!

  • Picking a behavior of their own to improve.

Which key stakeholders should be involved in this process? Your successor will need different types of feedback from quite different, yet equally important, stakeholder perspectives. To that end, the following groups would be well advised to participate: board members, peers, direct reports, and in some cases customers and suppliers. Now that you have the stakeholder list, ask yourself: "What key stakeholder relationships are most critical for me to ensure that I do a great job of leading the company?" Make a list of names. Make sure that each of these names are on the "feedback" list for your successor.

My personal approach to this type of developmental coaching involves asking each stakeholder three simple questions:

  1. What are this person's existing strengths that will help her be a great leader in the future?

  2. What are this person's challenges that may need to be overcome if she wants to lead?

  3. If you were her coach, what specific suggestions would you give her -- either strategic or tactical -- that, if she followed them, would help her become a great leader?

Now that feedback has been gathered, it is time to figure out what your succession candidate needs to change, wants to change, and is willing to change, and then it is time to begin the coaching process.

Life is good.


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