Your successor – your success!

by Terry Goodwin[1]

It’s a sad but all too frequent reality that senior people within organisations regularly try to protect their position by restraining their subordinates from developing their potential.

Indeed, it is not only senior people who adopt this ill-considered practice of self-protection, but it is a defect that seems to spread throughout organisations from bottom to top.  The rationalization is undoubtedly a fear that encouraging one’s peers or juniors to develop their leadership capabilities might hasten the demise of one’s own position.

And yet nothing could be further from the truth.  The sad fact is that failure to nurture the potential of someone who might be your successor could, when the time eventually comes for you to leave the organisation (for whatever reason) simply ensure the early demise of the organisation itself.

The defining act of a true leader or manager is nurturing a successor before it becomes necessary for someone to succeed you.  You may be the most effective administrator, marketing executive, or financial controller your company has ever had, but a poorly developed successor could undo in months what you may have achieved in years.

Promoting from within will always be more cost-effective than recruiting from outside.  Yet it has become almost axiomatic that top executives in the United Kingdom are recruited from outside because it is considered that there is a dearth of talent at the next level down from the departing executive.  Spending time and money on developing the latent talent within an organisation will pay for itself over and over.  And executives who are able to do this will not be “working themselves out of a job”, but will be prized by their employers.

There are a number of methods that may be used in achieving the aim of nurturing potential in successors.

  1. Company Values. Every opportunity should be taken to impress the values of the company upon co-workers and subordinates, so that they learn to appreciate the principles to which the company adheres and are able to reflect those principles when dealing with other members of staff and outside contacts.

  2. Teamwork. By the use of groupwork and building teams that can not merely work together but can develop a synergy, you can ensure that whoever is promoted from within the company will continue to enjoy the support of their colleagues.

  3. Information.  It is important to keep all members of your team fully informed about all developments, current and projected, so that they feel themselves to be an integral and valuable part of the organisation.

  4. Responsibility.  Your staff have to feel trusted to undertake increasingly more difficult tasks, in the knowledge that they will be receiving adequate support and cooperation.

  5. Creativity.  Staff must be encouraged to produce innovative solutions to problems, confident that their suggestions will be credited to them.

  6. Training.  One of the more usual reasons for recruiting successors from outside is because there  have been developments in the industry where your company may have lagged behind.  Staff have to be encouraged to seek out and embark on training programmes that will ensure that successors will be fully equipped to cope with all new developments.  "You cannot teach an old dog new tricks", may be a good enough dictum for the person about to retire, but that person certainly needs to ensure that the young dogs who will be taking over are alive to all the new tricks.

You will long be remembered with warmth and gratitude if you have succeeded in nurturing your present staff and your successors before taking your leave of the company.  The time to start is now.


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[1] Terry Goodwin was a senior marketing executive at Finexport Ltd in London and Bangkok until his retirement in 1992, since when he has been in private practice as a marketing consultant.