Are You Replacing Yourself? A Few Keys to Succession in Leadership


The legacy of your leadership relies significantly on how well your organization continues to thrive after you're gone. So, how do you go about "replacing" yourself?

What are some of the most difficult things in leadership? I would argue that replacing yourself is one of the most challenging parts of leadership -- Succession is really, really difficult.

Succession, simply the transition of leadership or power, is very difficult for most companies or organizations. Whether a Fortune 50 like GE, Wal-Mart, or Apple; a non-profit like the Red Cross, Focus on the Family, or World Vision; a small startup or family held business; a church of 200 or 10,000; or one of the thousands of mid sized companies across the country. In any case, this is a tough leadership paradigm to get right.

Large companies put millions of dollars into making sure succession is smooth and seamless. Look at Apple. The succession from Steve Jobs to Tim Cook has been difficult, and over the last year or so has possibly cost the company billions of dollars in market capitalization, and even more in brand equity. It is a huge issue for the long- term health of any company.

Family held businesses or “founder-driven” organizations are really at risk of bad succession plans. Most founders of family-held or not-for-profit organizations can’t let go, and drive everyone crazy around them. Especially in companies that are highly missional, founders are great at starting and building, but usually terrible at letting go and allowing the organization to grow into a second phase of organizational life without them, with a different leader at the helm.

Here in America, we do a really good job of succession when it comes to our President. It is a civil and democratic process. Not the case in other parts of the world, especially in third world and developing countries. Leaders hold onto power and do everything they can to stay in the seat of President or Prime Minister way long after they should be there. Usually because the power of their position corrupts their realities at the deepest levels. I believe this is one of the major issues for these countries- bad succession leads to internal strife, violence and disruptions in growth. These leaders not only hold onto to their power, but fail to develop any other leaders around them to take over.

What about you and your current leadership realities? Whether a team, a company, a non-profit, a church, a family held business, or a Fortune 50, you should be thinking about succession. How are you replacing yourself? If you are not thinking about this, you are neglecting a core part of your responsibility.

A few things to consider:

  1. Is it time for you to replace yourself? Have the courage to always leave before you need to or have to.
  2. Who are you grooming to step into your role? Start looking and grooming the next leader way sooner than you think you need to.
  3. Does the organization or initiative need a fresh perspective and fresh eyes? Most of the time the answer is yes.
  4. Power corrupts. Don't let your power trip end up keeping you from correctly leading the organization into the next season of healthy organizational life.
  5. Seek wisdom from inside and outside the organization. Seek counsel from trusted friends and advisors, as well as team members internally who can speak the truth.
  6. The legacy of your leadership relies significantly on how well the organization continues to thrive after you are gone. Your replacement is a direct reflection of the quality of your leadership.


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