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Leadership succession: Where do you begin?

For many organisations, leadership succession is a topic that is often pushed into the background; an issue only likely to be dealt with when it really is an issue. This is understandable – planning for a change of leadership long before a change of leadership is necessitated can be uncomfortable for both the incumbent and their leadership team. However, this awkwardness shouldn’t obscure the very real need to plan for leadership succession, thereby reducing the impact of the change and ensuring a smooth transition.



One way to approach leadership succession is simply to view it as one facet of your general leadership development process. Indeed, this is really just openly admitting what your leadership development programme is preparing for anyway – the movement upwards of young leaders will, ideally at least, end with one of them in the top job.



In this way, necessary parts of leadership succession – for example, the audit of your current leadership skills base – will already be a part of your organisation’s regular undertakings. You should have a good idea of what talent you can already call on, and what training & development opportunities are needed to fill any areas where current skills are lacking. Of course, it also means that an organisation can start looking externally if it can’t identify the talent it needs in-house.



You can also instil important facets of succession – such as an extended mentoring relationship between the incumbent and future leader – at an earlier (and therefore more useful) moment in time. This not only gives the CEO longer to mentor their successor, it also provides the organisation with a longer period of time to really assess whether they have anointed the right person.



Having more engagement with succession planning also provides more opportunities to assess its progress and performance. As part of your general leadership development programme, it is possible to monitor and adjust efforts on an ad hoc basis to best meet the changing needs and requirements of the organisation.

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