When there are two successful, effective, powerful people at, or near the top of an organization, it seems like succession planning should be easy. If the #1 is gone, the #2, the right-hand person, the consigliere is the obvious choice, right?
Replacement leaders often fail because they assume they can still do what they did, and be accepted by the organization based on their prior way of behaving. Sadly, not so easy.
What I have observed is that two people who work closely together to run an organization “split” many of the leadership/style roles. The same is true for parents, and for families with multiple children.
Here are just three examples of role splits between the "person at the top" (PATT) and the "right-hand person" (RHP):
The issue arises when the RHP is to be promoted to the PATT (Or, in a family, where one parent leaves or dies.)
It seems so obvious that the RHP should just step in.
However, they are suddenly expected to become the Charismatic Dreamer, or the Hard Results Person, just like their predecessor, whom everyone knew so well. Even if the person who left had faults, the need for their "style role" likely still exists on some level.
Both the organization and the individual must recognize what this means. Someone must be in charge of charisma, results, and even hatchets. Accepting that a successor will be different is hard for an organization. Accepting that I may need to be different is hard for an individual. Coaching, style assessment, and hard thought around expectations are key.
I get a call. The person says, "So-and-so has been promoted to CEO. They need help becoming [more charismatic, softer, more results-oriented, more strategic] like their predecessor was."
Trouble is, they're doing exactly what made them successful in the first place.
Copyright Cynthia Burnham 2007 All rights reserved.