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Break the taboo about succession

In corporate life, succession is a taboo. Often, the succession issue is kept quiet because most leaders don’t want to consider resigning. They are holding on to their status and anxiously looking at the future. The big black hole. 'What will happen after the succession?'

Top people absolutely want to avoid leaving the company through the back door. Demotion is not an option either. So, they stubbornly believe that none of the candidates are suitable successors. Often, they postpone the problem until it is too late. Consequently, the take-over needs to be arranged in a chaotic way, with all its consequences.

Succession commission
Generally, large companies quoted on the stock exchange obtain good results when it comes down to succession planning. Usually, they can rely on a ‘succession commission’ that prepares the succession process and steers it in the right direction. Top people are actively planning their career. This is a good thing if the rotation doesn’t take place too fast. Otherwise, there will be a lack of continuity.

For smaller companies and family businesses, succession can be a problem. Usually, there is no sound succession planning. Often, they only consider the financial aspects, but even this isn’t always the case. Just look at what recently happened to the Beaulieu group in Belgium.

We have noticed that leaders can only be really successful if they also arrange their succession in time. Usually, they don’t have control of the transfer date – the real succession – since many factors can be involved. Health, for instance, is one of these unpredictable factors. Or an accident. At such a moment, being forced to improvise would be irresponsible because it would affect all stakeholders, especially the employees and customers.


for a successful succession:
  1. Succession planning. As from the moment of appointment, you need to draw up a succession plan. This way, you will always be prepared in case of unforeseen circumstances.
  2. Succession list. Each sound succession plan contains a well-balanced succession list of possible internal and external (this is recommended) candidates selected according to clear criteria. Functional experience and leadership style are the major criteria. This list shouldn’t be static. It can evolve, but has to be available. In other words: make a list that is up-to-date and realistic.
  3. Planning. Each succession plan should also contain a planning outlining the transition period, with enough time to coach the new manager. Allow him/her to settle in and to adapt to the company.
  4. Resignation plan. Finally, you need to draw up a personal guidance plan for the person who will be replaced. Make sure new challenges and interesting activities are available. This is also possible within the company and is very important since a lack of alternatives is often the reason why leaders stick to their job. Leave a healthy heritage to the company!
Saving the best for last. That’s what it’s all about! Or to put it in Marshall Goldsmith’s words: ‘Passing the baton is the final challenge of great leadership!’

Nobody is indispensable; even Bill Gates isn’t. Dare to give things up. ‘Letting go’ might seem difficult, but ‘moving on’ opens new doors! I have learned this from my own experience!


By Herman van Herterijck

"my ambition is to put the importance of pragmatic and continuous self-coaching on the agenda of current business leaders"

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