Succession Planning’s Role in Leadership

Succession Planning’s Role in Leadership
Kenneth L. Alexander, Class of 1997
Director of Grand Park, City of Westfield

Congratulations, you got a promotion… New responsibilities, new challenges, new measures of success. All is great. As you start your new job your focus is understandably on adapting to your new role. But, who is taking care of the work you used to manage or provide? Are the colleagues supporting you also growing to fulfill their new responsibilities? Not effectively filling the void you left could ultimately lead to an organizational failure. This helps no one.

What is good leadership? You cannot spend two minutes on business-oriented social media sites like LinkedIn without being bombarded by inspirational quotes or advertisements for books that promise to help improve your ability to lead. Some managers seem innately endowed with leadership abilities, but many of us have to develop these skills, whether it be working with imaginative folks to articulate a vision for an organization, or in motivating and inspiring a team to implement that vision, or both. In the course of my career, I have moved from an implementation leader to a more visionary one—a common shift as one moves up in an organization and his or her role broadens. One thing I’ve learned in every role I’ve performed is the importance of picking the right team.

I’ve been told you never promote someone who hasn’t managed their own departure. It’s good advice, and gets to the root of a common problem I see in transitional leadership when people make changes without an understanding of how the new organization will be successful. Succession planning is an activity that every employee plays a part in. It starts early and includes talent selection as well as training. You must surround yourself with the proper talent and that starts at recruitment. So when looking for new employees, I believe you need to focus on these six traits.

1. Team Players – Look for people willing to add value and fix problems even when it is “not their job.”
2. Generous – Great employees are also great colleagues. Value those willing to recognize the impact of others and not take credit for things others produce.
3. Confident – Taking a position and not waiting to be led is a trait of a person who has confidence. Confidence is necessary to lead and be accountable. These workers are excellent candidates for empowerment, and can be crucial to management.
4. Creative – The status quo may be successful today but often will be unsuccessful later. Extraordinary employees always search to improve a process.
5. Diversity – I look for people who are interesting. Diversity of background and thought provides a very different outlook on a job, often challenging the status quo.
6. (Measured) risk taking – Great employees are ones that can gauge the appropriate time to make a decision on their own.

Succession planning is paramount to an organization’s success. Every day is a chance to learn and teach. Train and empower those around you so that they can manage personnel changes in the future. Organizations and leaders who have not secured the appropriate talent or train the people around them will fail. Don’t be fooled. Your success is dependent on those around you. What is your succession plan?

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