A leadership role can sometimes be compared to parenting…
A child is born. You take care of it for a minimum of 15-20 years. In those growing years, your child is a hands-on responsibility. The child then goes to college… He is independent enough to leave the home and face the world alone.
But the child needed a lot of training before he could walk, run, and eventually live on his own. This required you to teach him what you knew, give him your life lessons – both practical and the ones of wisdom. Once done, you were more confident of him being left on his own.
All along, though, you were aware that you were merely a custodian, and the child would have a life of his own someday…
A leadership role can be like that… You are handed over responsibility, you take it on, and it lasts for as many years, depending on whether it’s your own business or if you’re working for a company.
Initially your role is a hands-on one, you have a firm hold on it… You want to determine the company’s direction and monitor its growth…and you do what it takes to make it expand and flourish…
But,all along, like a parent, you know your role as a leader is merely that of a custodian…both of the title and the company… And the time will soon come when you will have to hand-over to someone else.
So, like a parent, before you exit, you need to impart what you have learned there, and transfer your skills and knowledge to the next in line who can capably run the company after you.
A leadership role, like that of a parent’s, is one where you have to focus on the company’s present as well as the future…where you have to do what you can while you’re around, but also eventually let go…
Hard at times, but necessary nonetheless.
Leaders are temporary custodians
A leadership role, like any other, is a transient one. At some point each one has to exit…that’s the natural order… Some leaders may quit, some may retire, and some may even have sudden or accidental deaths during their tenure…
Hence, for an organisation to run smoothly, you can’t just plan for today, you have to plan for tomorrow as well… Your eyes need to be firmly fixed on the future – of a time when the leader won’t be around. For this, you have to equip the organisation and the next in line to run it smoothly and efficiently in your absence.
And this theory applies to everyone – those who run family businesses, who’ve founded billion-dollar startups in their 20s and 30s, as well as C-suite executives in large corporations…each needs a succession plan, a fool-proof mechanism, where the next in line can take over without many hiccups.
Don’t plug the gaps, grow leaders
In today’s uncertain times, where the churn rate is increasing faster than ever, every organisation is aware of the burning need for succession planning…but a few are actually putting processes in place.
A common mistake organisations make, is to merely plug the gaps, fill vacant roles, rather than develop leadership potential as a whole. The flipside of this is that the organisation only focuses on a few competent employees who are chosen as‘successors’.
This brings about the danger of putting all eggs in one basket, and also demotivates the rest of the employees… The idea then should be to grow many leaders, and to grow them all the time.
Thus, it becomes a mandate of the leadership to nurture and grow the next rung of leaders. Once a mandate is set, HR departments can identify processes that aid leadership development across the organisation.
Some of the areas of focus can be:
1. To create leaders from within
In succession planning, the intent should be to grow more people from within… Existing employees are already familiar with the organisation’s culture and practices; all you need to do is invest some time in helping them become better leaders. You may consider hiring laterally from outside only if there is a need to shake up the organisation, and take it out of its complacency. Moreover, opportunities to grow within the company will keep employees more committed and motivated – the possibility of a promotion makes them less likely to quit.
2. To identify potential leaders
A few employees in an organisation will naturally display more leadership potential than others. These individuals can be assessed with greater detail on their commitment to their careers and the company. For this one needs to spend time with them, talk to them about their careers, and help them chart the path ahead. The next step is to figure out how the company can aid the growth of these high-potential employees.
3. To provide opportunities for mentoring
A mentor-mentee program in an organisation provides employees an opportunity to observe their leaders closely, and study the way they conduct business and take decisions. For this, there must be at least one-two candidates who can shadow the leader constantly, and get exposure to critical areas. A mentor-mentee relationship means a commitment of time from both ends, to learn and teach, sharing with full honesty all that is needed to run the organisation effectively.
4. To motivate existing employees
Before organisations can think of growing employees into leadership roles, they first have to think of retaining them and keeping them committed. This needs plenty of incentives, some could be monetary, while others could be in the form of promotions, and still others could be giving challenging projects that keep them engaged. Regular appraisals will help leadership and HR understand the needs of each employee and what makes them tick.
5. To provide backup systems
From basic aspects like ensuring all data is backed up, to the more human ones where every team leader has one or more person accompany him in the functioning of his role, an organisation should provide backup systems as needed. Documentation of projects, weekly updates and regular debriefings with the team can become mandatory procedures. When leaders keep everyone abreast of the happenings in an organisation, they not only create greater transparency, but also make it easier for the next rung of leadership to takeover.
Succession planning is a vast topic, one that has many shades and nuances… Several companies have either deferred thinking in this direction, or choose to ignore the problem hoping it will go away.
But one fine day it hits you with a great loss, either of people or profits, and that’s when you sit up and take notice… To be forewarned is to be forearmed; so gear up and start planning.
If you wish to create a succession plan in your organisation, reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Ritika Bajaj is a prolific writer and editor, focusing on people, startups, and the finer nuances of life. She is currently a content consultant, generating ideas and providing solutions for online and offline mediums. Ritika describes herself as a spiritual seeker, voyager, and change agent, constantly finding ways to make life richer and more meaningful.