Keeping Things From Descending into Chaos or Apathy
Succession planning can put many of your stakeholders at ease.
Christian Dirce by Henryk Siemiradski, 1897 (public domain - Wikimedia Commons)
Can you imagine living in a time when you had no idea who would become your country's next leader or when it might happen? This is what it was like during certain periods of the Roman Empire. (No present-day jokes, please.)
Caligula was so insane that he was murdered by the Praetorian Guard in 41 A.D. Then Claudius ushered in 13 years of relatively calm leadership, until he was poisoned by his wife Agrippina (who just happened to be the mother of Nero) in 54.
Nero's reign ended in 68, but not before he left an overwhelmingly negative impression on the Roman people. Although he was a populist, he was known for tyranny and extravagance, excessively spending publicly and privately. The historian Tacitus said that the Roman people found him to be compulsive and corrupt. When Rome burned, he seized the opportunity to blame the Christians for the fire, and burned them alive, motivated apparently not by justice but by cruelty.
How can regular people live like that?
On one hand, they just went on with their lives. Because, hey — what are you gonna do?
The Opportunity for the C-Suite
But as a leader, the last thing you want is your employees ignoring you and mindlessly going about their work. You need to provide stability, hope, and certainty.
Your job is to share the vision. To inspire. To be a steward of the brand.
The last thing you want is for employees to have to choose between apathy and chaos.
And a tangible way to do that is through succession planning.
When I worked with Alan Mulally at Ford, he made it clear that the most important job of a manager at any level is to prepare the next generation of leadership to take the helm.
While it may seem fatalistic to plan your own exit and you might be reluctant to do so, the reality is, your time is limited. Just as Romans were certain they were powerless to do anything about a mad emperor, leaders should be confident in their power to put a succession plan together.
One of the first steps in the plan is to surround yourself with strong team members. While tyrants don't like to be questioned, the emotionally intelligent leader is comfortable being challenged by people who have complementary strengths. Asking questions leads to better answers, both for our colleagues and for ourselves (oh, how Socrates would be proud!).
You also want to be sure that those talented leaders feel empowered with a talent development program that extends their leadership qualities.
And like any parent, the most difficult stage is knowing when to step away from the process. Whether you're holding onto the back of a bike, steadying your child as she pedals without training wheels for the first time, or grooming a new CEO, you need to recognize when you aren't needed in the preparation stages any longer.
If you're on this journey as an emotionally-intelligent leader already, then it's likely that you have a good sense of self awareness. You knew when to insert yourself into a process and when to back away. And if you've demonstrated that over time, your team trusts you and you trust them.
When you do leave the stage — whether it's this mortal coil or your current job — you leave a legacy.
You'll be judged not only by the results of what you leave behind, but by the processes you followed and the lives you touched.
Here's hoping that you find the right inspiration to lead boldly, ethically, and openly.
P.S. After spending time with people who are clearly more talented than me last week (such people are legion and easy to find), I was inspired to start doing video again.
Longtime followers may remember the Sunday evening live videos I used to do on Facebook. Between Hollywood award shows and the immense popularity of Game of Thrones, that was doomed from the start.
Now, I've got a short-form series I'm doing each week (or as the mood grabs me). These are two-minute hot takes on leadership issues that I'm calling Fit To Be Tied.
And while I have you, can I work with a member of your executive team this quarter? I'm taking on clients for advising and coaching in the communications and culture area, and speaking at company events. I would appreciate any introductions.
Thanks, and I'll see you on the Internet.