Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Are you really successful if you haven't planned for succession?


It was novel in football when Eddie McGuire announced Collingwood was establishing a succession plan to Mick Malthouse as coach. The emerging leader was clearly identified and so was the timeline. I believe the same move was a little less explicit a few months ago when Kevin Sheedy after his stint at GWS was named Essendon Football Club Ambassador. I don't think it's too fanciful to posit that Sheeds came back in case the Essendon players got done for doping, Hird was forced to resign or got sacked and Sheeds would be close by to fill the void in the mayhem as interim coach. 

I've seen a professional organisation of which I'm a proud member have to 'recycle' past dedicated office bearers for lack of interest or pre-planning. Thank goodness for their dedication but where is the generational change? The fresh thinking? And how powerful is that as a metaphor for an organisation going backwards?

I've spent a lot of time with a team this past fortnight who talk in glowing, even edifying terms about the boss who has actively sought them opportunities, trained them up, believed in them, given them leadership roles before they were ready. I also worked with a team full of insecurity, sapping energy through unhealthy competition and jockeying for attention for a demanding and cruel manager determined not to let them get big heads. How familial! How Aussie! How short-sighted!

And so looking at all these examples, it has struck me again how important it is for the contemporary leader to be secure, confident, generous and emotionally intelligent. He or she wants to see their people flourish, spots talent before the talented people do, works every day to improve bench strength, rails against dependence and indispensability and revels in the success of their people; regarding that success as an extension of their own.

Of course it is obvious how important this is when disaster, ill health or uproar strike. Succession planning is a critical risk management and disaster recovery/business continuity imperative. Ken Lay resigned before anyone wanted him to for personal reasons. Denise Cosgrove was at WorkSafe one day and gone the next. Lt Gen David Morrison, one of my absolute heroes, retires as Chief of Army in July this year. Who will take his place? Indeed, who can take his place? But I sure hope they've been thinking about it.

I remember my mum telling me when I was much younger - There will always be jobs for good people. No fabulous leader will be left out in the cold if they've gathered and garnered formidable people around them. But I'm not advocating cult-like adoration. One of the core responsibilities of senior leaders is not to create other people in their likeness but to be willing to create other leaders in their wake.