Developing Future Leaders is an Ongoing Process

By Beth Armknecht Miller, a leadership advisor, coach and Vistage chair for Executive Velocity, Inc.

Why is it important to develop future leaders within your company? Continuity of company culture, labor shortages, and an unexpected death of a senior manager are just a few important reasons. In his book, Built to Last, Jim Collins describes the very successful succession planning process that GE’s CEO, Reginald Jones, took to find a new CEO.  The process involved 96 candidates over seven years before Jones narrowed the candidates down to a single successor: Jack Welsh.

GE’s commitment to the succession process not only identified Jack Welsh, but all of his predecessors as well.  These leaders were visionaries and change agents – an important, ongoing part of GE’s culture. While you may not currently be in need of a successor, have you at least identified some potential candidates?  Who within your organization has the potential to succeed you?  And how long will it take before they are prepared to take your seat?

Challenges for Mid-Market Companies: Unlike GE, mid-market companies generally don’t have 96 candidates in the succession planning process queue, and a seven year process may be overkill.  At the same time, many mid-market companies often wait until it is too late to successfully identify and develop their next CEO.  Potential candidates may leave their current company to grow with another company before they are formally identified for succession opportunities.  The very worst scenario involves a candidate leaving for a competitor who promises them increased responsibilities and leadership development opportunities that their current company failed to provide.

Another challenge for mid-market companies is their lack of a structured management training program for current and future leaders as found in many Fortune 500 companies.

Redefining Succession Planning for Mid-Market Companies: The succession planning process should start with you, your organization’s leader, and your talent management or human resources department.  Work with this department to create a list of critical success factors and specific job requirements.  Identify all must-have experience and skill sets as well as the nice-to-haves.  If you don’t have people internally with these skills set, bring in a consultant to assist in the succession planning process.

Once the job profile is complete, compare it to your candidates.  Identify the top candidates and determine what leadership development skills they will require.  Some of your leadership development process can be addressed through internal resources, while some may require external resources. When your leadership development plan is finished, you should not wait to execute your plan as waiting can greatly impact your company’s future! The story below tells why it is imperative that you not wait to begin developing your future leader.

Start Now: I’ve had the unfortunate experience of working with a company whose leader did not act with a sense of urgency when it came to leadership development and he died unexpectedly. The company was left to a family member who wasn’t prepared to take control and lead the company.  As a result, this past year has been a very difficult time for the new leader as well as for the employees.

Grooming future leaders is one of the most critical tasks for an organization’s leader.  Without well-prepared future leaders, there is no future for the company.  A good leadership development process will take time and commitment from you, and must be a high priority.  Therefore, don’t let the company that you have spent so many years building, stagnate or fall apart because you didn’t properly prepare new leadership to run it for many years into the future.

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