When it comes to leadership transitions, succession planning is, in part, about preparing an organization for future success. There are several key factors to consider. Let’s look at three.
- Organizational Life Cycle
- Natural Talents and Tendencies
Whether your organization is healthy and growing well, struggling toward health and growth, or in a state of significant dysfunction or decline, the personal character of its first-chair leader is pivotal. Sound, ethical, and integrated character in a leader is to human organizations what sound, integrated engineering is to bridge design and construction.
For an organization or a bridge to stand up to the demands placed upon it over time, the design, materials, and means of combining those materials into an intentional design must be congruent, consistent, and intentionally maintained. Decisions made and actions taken by a leader of unsound character will eventually come to light, but not after significantly eroding and weakening the organization. (I’ve helped clean up the messes of many such “leaders”.)
Organizational Life Cycle
Organizations, like organisms, have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Lifespans vary according to DNA and lifestyle choices. Those choices are most effective when the person making them is aware of what stage of life the organism or organization is at. Studies since the 1890s have revealed with consistency that organizations of all types follow a general pattern of: Birth, Growth, Maturity, Decline, Death/Renewal.
Not all leaders are effective at every stage of the organizational life cycle. Not all individuals or groups charged with selecting a new leader are aware of or admit to the reality of which stage of life an organization (or subsection) is at. Acknowledgement of those realities will help the organization and the prospective leader engage in intelligent dialogue and make more fully informed decisions; decisions that affect both present and the future success.
Natural Talents and Tendencies
Some leaders are natural catalysts. Some are natural stabilizers. Some can adapt as needed, to varied degrees. Either way, we are more energized by one than the other and tend to lean into the approach that is most energizing. Awareness of which approach is needed according to the lifestage and current circumstances of the organization is essential to long-term success. (An over-catalyzed organization may need a stabilizer for a season, even if some perceive that progress is only about effectively managing intentional disruption.)
Viewed through a similar broader lens, some leaders are designers, some are developers, and others are sustainers, or a blend of two in proximity to each other. Designers tend to need something new with greater frequency than developers and sustainers. Sustainers can be stressed out by frequent change; they make for effective operational leaders. Organizations need all three, along with awareness of how to effectively leverage the talents and tendencies of each type.
For successful execution of a succession plan, it is important to look for and find the right blend of natural talents and tendencies relative to the lifestage realities of the organization. This can, at times, be more important than experience because we all tend to do only that which we want to do anyway… and we want to do those things that energize us and bring joy and meaning.