Succession Doesn’t Equal Success

By: Dain Dunston

HBO’s Succession ended last month with, well, let’s not spoil it for the billions of people around the world who haven’t seen it yet. Let’s just say that if there’s one lesson to be learned from the series, it’s that if you don’t have a succession plan that’s well thought out and well executed, you’re not going to have success. But that’s not a new story. Just ask Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Whether the company is big or small, private or public, one of the leader’s most important responsibilities is to plan for the next generation of leadership. It doesn’t matter how great you’re doing in the role, if you don’t set your successor up for success, you failed in your role. Here’s how to make sure you don’t become the next Logan Roy from Succession or the next Lear.

Start Early.

How soon is too soon to announce a change of leadership to the company? More than a year is too long, less than a month is not long enough (unless, of course, there’s an emergency). We find a longer run-up to the change helps everyone. The incoming leader has time to plan their own strategies, investigate team member changes, and learn the many things that they will have to learn to succeed in the job.

Create a Transition Team.

If Presidents can do it, so can you. We have participated on just that kind of project, helping the next leader plan their “campaign” for the culture of the company. Not big sweeping changes right out of the gate, necessarily, but certainly an evolving perspective for the future. By planning the communications and the leadership meetings that will follow the succession, the new leader can influence the way the transition is accepted and adopted by the rest of the organization.

Engage Everyone.

The incoming leader needs access to his or her peers and to be able to learn from them how they see the future emerging. The outgoing leader needs to ensure that everyone supports the succession and will give the new leadership their full support – which may include sharing different viewpoints and perspectives. We encourage the new leader to organize a couple of off-site meetings to listen to the rest of the leadership and understand how they see the organization and the marketplace changing and growing. (Note we said “listen and understand”!)

Let Go and Mean It.

For the outgoing leader, letting go can be hard, particularly when you are the founder. Founders often have a very difficult time letting go of control and often feel the need to rush back in to save the world. Don’t. If you do that, you undermine the future of the company. New leaders have to learn the lessons of leadership at the top for themselves. If you were great at building a company, let the next leader be great at expanding it.

King Lear didn’t get that, and his succession planning ended in war, death and insanity. Logan Roy didn’t get off much better. If the most important thing you did in life was build a great company, the most important thing now is to ensure its continued success by being as great at the succession journey as you were at bootstrapping back in the day.

If you are in the midst of change or a succession, come visit our Ghost Ranch retreat in October 2023, The Leader’s Quest | Navigating the Essential Self.

The retreat will provide you with an above the ground opportunity to define your purpose, cause and vision, as you move into the next phase of your leadership journey.

Let’s build something awesome together.

You have a vision.
We have a way to get you there.