CEO Succession Starts With This One Important Thing

One of the most surprising things I’ve found in my extensive experience as a leadership executive coach that most companies are missing the mark when it comes to CEO succession. And in virtually all cases the issue is the same: they’re waiting until there’s a need and looking for new leadership from outside the organization instead of planning ahead and focusing within. Looking for someone new to come in and be successful is a risky strategy. Constantly developing the leaders who are already within the organization is far more likely to lead to success.

Continued strong leadership at the top is critical to any company’s long-term prospects. This is the succession process I recommend to my clients—one that I’ve seen carried out many times with successful results.

Create a process. First and foremost, have a solid plan in place. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Corporate Directors last year, two-thirds of American public and private companies said they have no formal CEO succession plan in place. And headhunter Korn Ferry reports that of the executives who talked with him this year about their CEO succession processes, only about one-third were satisfied with the outcome. These figures are unnerving. CEO succession planning is far too critical to neglect or get wrong. The time to begin planning is now.

Produce a profile. Define the skills and talents you are looking for, the kind of candidate who will be able to deliver on future strategies and present results. This profile will keep your process grounded in the desired results and will help you select the best candidates when the time comes.

Groom internal candidates. Choosing a new CEO is unambiguously the board’s responsibility, but the current CEO and senior leadership team have an important role in identifying and developing likely candidates within the organization.

Generate a continuing framework. Succession planning is not a one-shot initiative. A successful succession plan should be a multiyear structured process connected to leadership development. The CEO succession then becomes the result of initiatives that actively develop potential candidates through a process that’s responsive rather than reactive. Without a structured process, potential candidates may not have sufficient time or encouragement to work on areas for development or improvement—and as a side effect, the organization may gain a damaging reputation for not developing their leaders and talent.

Design a rotation. When I work with companies on their succession plan, we create a process in which developing leaders—especially those who have been identified as prospective succession candidates—rotate over a three-year period through key leadership roles within the organization. This cross-training gives leaders an opportunity to learn and develop within all aspects of the company, learning key skills within each role and getting to know the company from the inside out. As a bonus, a few standout potential leaders generally emerge during this process.

Maintain a leadership development plan. Keep coaching and mentoring your organization’s developing leaders. A smart approach is to develop a plan for each candidate and feed it into their annual review, providing opportunities for supportive and constructive feedback. These tailored leadership development plans serve both the organization and the individual leaders.

For now, the most important thing is to get started on developing a plan—or, if you already have a plan, reviewing it against best practices—regardless of the status of your current CEO. Life is uncertain, and leaders owe their organization the ability to maintain stable leadership at the top.

Lead from within: A succession plan is not a recruiting process. It’s the responsibility of every organization to develop leaders among leaders, finding the best candidates and helping them succeed.


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The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Kiera Hart

    09. Oct, 2019

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