Developing Successors.
By Dr. Rick Johnson
Monday, 23rd January 2012
Succession isn't limited to the President of the organization; in a privately held business succession can be extremely important at a number of critical positions within the company.

These positions may include VP of Operations, VP of Sales, Logistics and even front line Sales Management. Success of your company is directly dependent on the people you surround yourself with. To leverage your success and maintain competitive advantage, succession must become part of your strategic initiatives.

Classroom training is not the only answer to improving the effectiveness of leaders and potential leaders in your company. In fact, it may have the smallest impact on their progress. Actual experiences and learning from those experiences is a key part of the development process.


Mentoring is essential to this experienced based learning. Good judgment is based on experience and experience is based on bad judgment. (Steve Kaufman, CEO Arrow Electronics) The key is learning from our bad judgment. This is a much more effective process if there is a coach or mentor involved that can help you through the experience based learning process.

This means becoming a confidant—leading through the use of past examples and experience. Mentoring is providing guidance, support and training to expedite the development of someone that has the potential to become an effective leader. This helps define ones purpose, values, skills and unique talents.

There aren't many successful people in life that haven't had the help of someone along the way. That help may have appeared in the form of a role model, the support of a particular group, a personal friend and confidant or a hands on mentor. Mentoring involves commitment and a long-term relationship that an experienced leader makes to support the professional development of a protégé. It can be a formal or an informal process. Since this process is so valuable, many companies are looking for ways to create formal mentoring programs. It is really all about leadership development.

Mentoring can take the form of challenging assignments that create unique opportunities to gain experience in specific leadership areas. Another tool that is becoming more popular in the formal mentoring programs is the 360-feedback review. This is a performance evaluation of the mentored individual by his peers, his manger and his subordinates. This however, should not be an isolated feedback process. Improvement planning and evaluation validation must be a part of this process. The mentor and the individual's supervisor, if they are different individuals, must actively support this process. Incomplete information and lack of follow-up and support can destroy the benefits of this process. Timing is also very critical to this process and it should always carry a positive reinforcement message to the person being mentored.

Why become a Mentor?

Mentoring is a form of learning that goes back to ancient times when an experienced and successful teacher would take on a specific pupil to teach him everything he knew to duplicate his success. Remember the movie "The Karate Kid"? This methodology was the most effective form of creating succession. It was the original form of succession planning. By mentoring the experienced teacher could shortcut mistakes, wrong turns and other costly setbacks that others make without the privilege of having a mentor? Mentoring is an honorable, old way of learning that had been forgotten but is now being rediscovered as an extremely valuable leadership development tool.

Some people say success has a lot to do with luck. The harder you work the luckier you get. Mentoring can help find the virtues, the attitude and the values necessary for success. Virtues and values are very definable. They can be defined as:

  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Respect
  • Compassion
  • Character
However attitude is a state of mind. Something that changes based on circumstance and the environment. Attitude is extremely important when mentoring your potential successor. Success is very dependent on an attitude that embraces the following:

  • Impatience     
  • Abstract unconventional thinking
  • Insightfulness     
  • Happiness     
  • Calculated risk taking
  • Hunger for achievement
  • Decisiveness     
  • Self-awareness     
Become a Mentor or Hire a Coach

Most often you will find your successor at your place of employment. Picking the right person to mentor is important. First of all, they must have gained the respect of others in your organization. They must be recognized for their potential in the organization and demonstrate the kind of Lead leadership that excites people that will make them want to follow their lead. Accept no substitute, no stand in. However, most importantly, the candidate you select must be willing and able to take on the responsibility of learning from you. This is not something either of you should take likely. A mentor is not just someone you can go to for advice.

A real mentor is interested in the successor, their life, their progress and their success. They take a proactive role in their development and their leadership effectiveness. Make your time and your successor's time as productive as possible. Create an action plan with your successor that defines the activities in great detail. Details that you need to complete to create the success that you and your successor have defined. Specific goals and objectives with a definitive timeline are key components to the mentoring process.

If you find it difficult to do the things necessary to become a good mentor or if you find yourself too close to the situation, too involved in the vision for the future or just want outside support, hire an executive coach.

Hire a Coach

Why should a company consider executive coaching?  Simple:  In most cases, what is good for the individual is also good for the company.  When one needs help separating the forest from the trees, they normally find the forest within the confines of the company.  When one is making decisions from a position of stress, they find that stress is normally ascribed to the requirements of the job, and stress relief usually allows the job to be done better, faster, and with much more enthusiasm. This coach can not only be your personal coach, the coach for your selected employee but they could also function as a coach for your executive management team.

The higher you are in the management hierarchy, the more solitary the decision-making base becomes.  Regardless of your experience, you can use a third party whose future does not rest on one decision or one action.

Rick Johnson, expert speaker, wholesale distribution's "Leadership Strategist", founder of CEO Strategist, LLC a firm that helps clients create and maintain competitive advantage. Need a speaker for your next event, E-mail rick@ceostrategist.com.


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