Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Leadership Succession Planning

Volume: June 2011

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com


Ted was a superstar leader with a problem. He had been leading his organization for over a decade. He worked hard, and smart, and had led his organization successfully during times of smooth sailing, as well as rough waters. The Board of Directors was enthralled with Ted’s consistent results and world-class management of his people. Each year Ted’s Peer 360 Reviews were off-the-charts good. Ted was not troubled by the competition, or regulations, or even the slowly improving economy. Ted’s concerns were centered in identifying and developing his successor. You see, Ted was planning on retiring in three years and he viewed the organization as a perpetuity – he wanted to ensure a smooth leadership transition.


Ted realized that over the past few years he had been so focused on managing the company’s operations and its people that he had neglected to train and develop internal team members who could assume his position, as well as other high-level positions within the company.


As he sought to strengthen and protect his organization by developing its team members, Ted became a student of succession planning. The first thing that Ted learned was that succession planning is a two-tiered process. The first tier involves identifying internal team members with the potential to fill important positions within the organization. The second tier is engaging in a structured training development program that increases the leadership skills of appropriate team members. The latter actions position valued team members so that they will be best equipped to assume greater responsibilities.


As Ted began to think strategically about the succession planning process, he realized that it held the promise to accelerate the transition of qualified team members from individual contributors to managers and leaders. Energized by the possibilities, Ted made a list of the benefits of succession planning. It subsequently became a mantra with the C-level team, known simply as The Lucky 13. Ted’s list stated that succession planning:

  1. Prepares current team members to assume important organizational positions
  2. Develops skills and abilities of talented team members
  3. Better positions the organization for long-term growth
  4. Enhances team member capabilities and overall company performance
  5. Improves employee engagement with the organization
  6. Elevates team member commitment to the organization
  7. Builds a retention wall around key team members  
  8. Creates excitement regarding career development
  9. Contains milestones that can assist with tracking skill improvement, as well as gaps in skill capabilities
  10. Illustrates organizational support of key team members
  11. Reduces the need and expense of recruiting external leadership talent
  12. Strengthens a culture committed to leadership continuity
  13. Strengthens the organization’s knowledge base


The Board of Directors was excited about Ted’s ideas regarding succession planning. They viewed succession planning as a means to create sustainable leadership, to ensure smooth business continuity, to improve team member morale, and to reduce a myriad of risks.


Ted and his leadership team crafted a five-part plan to implement their company’s succession strategy:

Part 1:  List the key roles requiring succession

Part 2:  Gain clarity on the core capabilities associated with each role

Part 3:  Identify team members with the potential to be successful in each role or multiple roles

Part 4:  Create a formal coaching and development program to enhance the skills and toolbox of appropriate team members

Part 5:  Implement and appropriately measure the action items


Bottom Line: By thinking strategically and taking a long-term view, Ted was able to collaborate with his upper-level leadership team and craft a meaningful succession plan for his company. In the process, short-term and medium-term results will also be increased. There is not much downside to succession planning. And remember, the more people you involve in the process, the more ownership they will take regarding the results.


Until next time, be well.


Doug Van Dyke is a leadership and collaboration consultant, executive coach, and strategic planner. He is also the author of Leadership Simplified – THE Field Guide for Savvy Leaders.  Doug’s audios and videos are also available atwww.leadershipsimplified.com. To learn more about consulting services, coaching, and training, or to have Doug help your team work together better, contact him today at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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