5 top challenges to succession planning among executives

5 challenges to succession planning

Most companies have leaders who, for one reason or another, are not ready to consider what will happen when they leave. Retirement is inevitable, but it can be uncomfortable for long-time, thoroughly-invested leaders to think about. The pressure from stakeholders to create succession plans can make the mental burden on an outgoing executive seem even heavier.

Companies should not lack continuity plans simply because leaders refuse to acknowledge their impending retirement. Rather, leaders need to open their eyes to situational and psychological blocks in succession planning, and face them head-on. It’s the best way to step down on good terms and leave a company in capable hands.
In this blog, we explore some of the most common blocks.

1. A lack of trust

Without a general attitude of confidence and trust, it’s hard for a leader to fully commit to the idea of succession.
When someone is convinced that nobody can fill their shoes, it becomes impossible to trust anyone that seems remotely capable of doing so. After you’ve put in years of personal energy towards holding a company together, how can you allow someone new to simply 'take over'?

It's important to remember that the right newcomer will build on your work, not trample over it. Leaders need to accept the fact that someone will do a great job when it’s time to take charge. Yielding control to a competent and worthy heir can be - and should be - very freeing.

2. Choosing the wrong successor

Sometimes, succession is hampered by a bad selection. An insecure leader might choose a safe, unthreatening — and therefore less-qualified — successor. Or, a leader might make the wrong pick due to disengagement from the succession planning process.

The problem is, putting the wrong person in a principal role, whether due to lack of focus or self-protective instincts, only hurts the company long-term. The right hire will come with the skills and talents needed to lift up the whole organisation and keep their predecessor’s legacy alive.

3. Undercutting the successor

A leader may sometimes fail to give a potential successor the resources and support needed to do well in the role. A controlling, insensitive, or cynical leader can hurt a newcomer’s morale, making it much harder for them to prepare for the job.

Micro-managing and undermining an understudy is unhelpful. After proving their worth, a candidate should be given the freedom to carve out their own path towards established corporate goals, instead of being put in a restrictive box that stunts their growth and sets them up to fail.

4. A passive-aggressive stance towards planning

A subtle, yet damaging way leaders often weaken a succession programme is to pretend to prepare for new leadership while quietly thwarting the process.

This can look like several things: choosing multiple potential successors (and in effect, choosing nobody), introducing random delays into the interview process, or offering the job to completely ill-suited prospects.

This is often the passive-aggressive behaviour of a leader who feels helpless when the spectre of retirement is raised. But here is where stakeholders must keep the leader accountable, and not allow roadblocks in the process of choosing a replacement.

5. Unawareness of personality factors

Many of the issues in succession planning mentioned here can be linked to the leader’s personality features. A stable, agreeable leader will allow things to move forward smoothly, whereas deep fear, pride and mistrust can sabotage the peaceful transfer of power, hurting an entire workforce from the top down.

This is why development and insight are crucial for leaders. Executives who ‘know themselves’, and are enlightened about how they may be derailing succession plans, can choose better behaviours for the good of their colleagues and their own legacies.

We all have room for improvement in self-awareness. When leaders take honest inventory of their own personalities, they’re more able to secure a graceful retirement, create succession plans in the best interest of their organisations, and cultivate the talent that’s most worthy of assuming the helm.

Are you ready to develop as a leader and cement a good future for your organisation? Get in touch with us.