Knowing when it’s time to get your coat…

The current media frenzy over Tony Blair’s successor and the timing of his departure from the leadership role highlight a dilemma facing many organisations when it’s time for a change.

A visionary leader may have guided the organisation through a difficult period and achieved considerable success, but when it’s clear they have overstayed their welcome, the organisation begins to suffer.

Poor planning

The Labour Party’s succession planning has been handled poorly. It has been at best controversial and at worst inept, with damage to the organisation and Blair’s credibility as a leader as a result. Contrast that with David Beckham. Perfect he is not. But he knew when to resign as England captain, and gained huge respect for making the decision when he did.

So why does this happen to leaders and organisations? It could be that such prevarication is due to a hugely inflated ego – an inflated sense of self-importance about personal leadership abilities. Or it could be a lack of confidence in the heir apparent. It is possible that a personal fear is at play – ‘This is all I know. What is left for me now?’. But whatever the reason, it seems that all too often leaders and organisations get it wrong.

At some point, all leaders have to face the question: ‘Should I stay or should I go?’. But when is the right time to go?

More importantly, how can the transition be achieved without the carnage and juvenile in-fighting that we are currently witnessing in the Labour Party?

From a leader’s perspective, it will often take a lot of courage to pursue and deliver a successful vision for a business. The same courage is also needed when looking in the mirror and understanding that it is time to trust the leadership to someone new that another person is more capable than you of building on the success of the business.

Such personal honesty also requires a lot of humility. In leadership terms, this is the desire to constantly learn and grow, while retaining your perspective on yourself, and not becoming complacent or arrogant.

If leaders can develop and nurture these qualities in themselves, they are likely to understand when it is the right time to move on. They will also encourage feedback from others and allow their input into their decision.

That same sense of humility also means there is likely to be a great succession plan in place. Leaders who demonstrate this quality are passionate about the continued success of the business after they have gone. This means that right from the start of their tenure, they work on developing outstanding people to take on their role.

Personal transition

Of course, it is unrealistic to assume that all leaders can create such clarity. For many – including those identified above – the decision to go appears to be not just a change of role, but a personal transition that involves emotions as well as rational thought processes.

So what of your organisation? If you are the leader, is it time to get your coat? Are you being honest with yourself about your succession?

If not, what is stopping you and what support do you need to develop an outstanding succession plan?

If you are not the leader but you can see a succession issue looming, are you doing everything that you can to influence the outcome?

If not, what else could you do? Either way, I believe that you owe it to your organisation to take this issue seriously.

John Frost
Values Based Leadership

For more on the benefits of succession planning

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