Leadership Succession Planning at Its Best

You have to have heart

In any organization, senior leadership fails if there is no succession plan. Whether a large international conglomerate or a simple mom and pop venture, passing the torch is vital to long term staying power.

12295180 - passing the baton

Courtesy 123rf.com

Part of succession planning is not merely naming those next in line, but it involves grooming and nurturing for handing off control. There is a spirit that goes with the best intended succession plan. “The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Dromgoole does a good job of capturing that spirit.

An old man going a lone highway,
Came at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,
“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been nothing to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

If you are in a leadership role, have you identified the next in line? Has the process begun to tutor, groom, and develop the people in succession?

Here are five key things to include in the process for developing the next generation of leadership.

1. Get the right people on the bus – Jim Collins, in his work “Good to Great, defined this concept. The right people have to be recruited and on-board before a succession selection can happen. This is the foundation; finding people who have the right heart and soul for what your mission is about.

Perhaps you may need to thin the crop. Maybe your current staff is not fully committed to doing the right things for your company. You must get all of the right people aligned so that moving in the same direction is less of a problem. Making the tough calls now about the team on hand will help smooth the transition for the successor.

2. Identify core competencies – Before any personalities are introduced to the selection process, lock down on the vital characteristics needed for succession. Write a definition of skill sets and attributes that are deemed most important for the position to hold. This is not so much a job descriptor as it is a framework for success.

Make this a collaborative process. Get input from various sources both in and out of the company.

3. Create a shortlist – Make a list of possible candidates that fit the criteria from step 2. Vet this list with multiple sources too. While past performance with the company or within the industry is highly valued, the other attributes should be carefully weighed. Past performance should never be the only selection criterion.

4. Begin the grooming – Candidates selected for succession roles should be subjected to a more formalized development plan. Are there areas of the company they don’t know yet? Get them exposed to those. Are there special considerations (contractual or otherwise) that must be understood?

Not all candidates will meet 100% of the core competencies. What can you do now to strengthen the parts that are lacking?

5. Establish the timing – Succession plans sometimes fail because the named successor is forced to wait too long. In the Bible, David was told he’d be King, but had to wait 14 years. Who in today’s market would accept a deal like that? The timing of revealing succession must be carefully orchestrated so that the outgoing leader is truly ready to go while the incoming successor is ready.

Often larger companies will mitigate this challenge by establishing a high-potential pool of talent. These are mid-level management and technicians who meet the core competencies, but for whom there is no specific role above. As vacancies open, these “hi-pots” are tapped for promotion. The hi-pot programs serve to groom while building an inventory of possible succession candidates.


I said there is a spirit for maximum effectiveness of succession. All too often I hear of an “us versus them” mentality when it comes to succession. That kind of thinking is void of the spirit. The spirit needs to be just like that of the bridge builder in the poem; having a heart that says I came this way and fought the chasm. Now I want to bridge the gap for the younger person who will come behind me.

All of his hard work to build something can go away in a flash if the next generation is not given the chance, when the timing is right, to move forward.

Question: How do you see succession planning where you work? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What is Transition Coaching?

How new managers can thrive

It is common business practice for companies of all sizes to look across their workforce and make some interesting picks when a new team leader is needed. Often the selection criteria is based upon highest performer, biggest producer, or ‘smartest’ worker.


Frankly, these are all lousy criteria for selecting a manger, who by definition, needs to become a leader of that team. Yes, the selection based on these factors might have some upside potential for success, but sadly, they seldom do. Therefore, the result is a damaged high value contributor, and a team that operates in a vacuum for a brief period of time.

Continue Reading »

Gut-Checking Goals for Mid-Year Course Correction

How’s it going for 2016 so far? Have you met your goals? Are you tracking to positive results?

16060185 - symbol diagrams done in 3d, white background

Courtesy 123rf.com

Or have you stumbled out of the gate and never quite recovered? If so, what is holding you back? I am going to offer some simple two sided attributes for you to consider; a whole new alphabet to follow. There will be a coaching tip with each one.

Continue Reading »

Why We Need Natural Recovery to Endure Stress

Proper stress management actually helps you grow as a Manager

Stress is a regular part of everyday life. Taking a page from my fitness coach, let’s talk about stress factors that we, as managers and leaders, can undergo. More importantly, we need to understand the cycles that are needed when stress occurs.

Stress, like a good workout, can actually help us grow, but only if taken in regulated doses with sufficient recovery periods allowed.

15995959 - abstract word cloud for stress with related tags and terms

Courtesy 123rf.com

There is an interesting lesson from science that we can apply here.

Our bodies (and all living organisms) have a natural state of equilibrium. This is called homeostasis. As an example, your body temperature is usually stable somewhere around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When you get hot or cold, you know it right away. Why? Because an outside factor has changed your homeostasis or your equilibrium.

The physiology behind seeing results at a gym is rooted in the impact on homeostasis. You subject yourself to some exercise regimen or routine, but that workout is for a finite time. While you workout, you are in fact making tiny micro tears in your muscles.


In this graph it is plotted as a momentary dip in equilibrium. Since you have stressed your system, the whole homeostatic balance has been thrown out of whack. So, you need a recovery period to get back in balance. Recovery will include rest, nutrition, hydration, and other elements.

The interesting thing though is that the recovery actually increases the level of your next homeostatic state. Granted, the change may be subtle, but there is a change. Sustained cycles of this process will affect change. In the gym, it is a more sleek body.

Failure to allow the recovery process will erode your state of balance over time. That is, if you habitually workout the same muscle groups without any rest, you are producing counterproductive results. Basically you are hurting yourself more than helping. The following graph shows that cycle.



Let’s face it, we all deal with stress; the job, spouse, kids, extended family, finances, health, and other relationships.There are many things that “Stress us out”. People have different tolerances for stress. That means our individual homeostatic state may be different when it comes to stress.

Dealing with stress requires the same disciplines as working on physical fitness. Effort versus recovery is the key. Anyone can endure some stress from time to time. Prolonged, repeated stress without adequate recovery takes us down a destructive path.

The constant exposure to stress without any relief whatsoever can have impacts on performance, our relationships, our health (both physical and mental), and many other areas of our lives.

Knowing about the need to return to a balanced state (homeostasis) is vital to sustainability.

To make the long haul as a manager/leader, you have to build your own endurance for stress while figuring out a protocol for managing the stress around you.

If you learn to deal with stress by thinking of it as a growth moment, much like making yourself go to the gym, you will see growth in your proficiency to lead and your capacity to handle larger assignments.


Once you establish an understanding of the concept of homeostatic behavior, you can become better at dealing with stress. At work, managers get promoted why? Usually it is because they have successfully accomplished good work on the level where they are.

Once you are recognized as a “can-do” person, your name will appear more regularly on the short list for advancement.

Effectively managing stress will help get you there. The outcomes are these:

1. Stress is something you overcome. You don’t whine about it, you get it done. Regardless of the pressures putting you in stress, you find ways to deal with it and thrive. I’m not talking about getting yourself into an endless stress cycle (that’s graph #2). I’m describing the healthy growth from one event to another (graph #1).

2. You grow as a manager. Yes, overcoming the former periods of stress will teach you about your work, your personality, and your capacity to endure. By looking at stress as a growth moment (much like pushing that last 10 minutes of a hard workout), you will see progress. Think of it as building your management muscle. Stronger managers survive the long run, so long as that strength was gained through development from a quality cycle of work then recovery.


I am neither a medical doctor nor a licensed therapist. Please do not take these teachings to an extreme. I recognize that severe stress disorders are serious conditions that require professional help. If you are suffering from that sort of condition, please do seek help immediately. I am not making light of those who have encountered tremendously stressful situations (e.g. PTSD) where prolonged exposure is unavoidable. Rather, I am focused on work world situations in conventional business settings.


The Uncommon Commodity : Common Sense Guide for New Managers (Charleston, SC: Palmetto Publishing, 2016)

I know Doug. He speaks with a servant’s heart and from an authentic manager’s real-world point of view.  A superb combination!
“The Uncommon Commodity: A Common Sense Guide for New Managers” is your foot up against the competition. Step up. Now.

Rick Gillis
Careers Expert, Speaker, Author “PROMOTE!” & “JOB!

Cover-2I wrote “The Uncommon Commodity” because I believe new managers need to know that they are not alone. The challenge of taking on a management and leadership role for the first time is possibly the biggest career move anyone can make. Whether you were groomed for it or just thrust into the seat, nothing can be a bigger test than taking on this responsibility. After over 30 years in business management and entrepreneurship, I can promise you many of the answers come from pure common sense. Yet so many get tangled up in fancy program language that they fail to realize how easy some solutions can be found. In this book I use a story telling approach to guide you through common issues.


Doug has developed mastery in the field of management and leadership through years of hands-on experience supplemented by a desire to understand the best practices in these fields. With this book he is opening the vault of his own experience and insight so that others can benefit for what he has learned.  Take this guide and put it to work at once!

Cathy Nunnally
Nunnally & Company


I am so impressed by Doug Thorpe and the valuable service he provides. Watching him work, it is immediately clear that his broad array of business and interpersonal skills have come together beautifully to create an excellent product for those he serves. If you are looking for a coach to help you navigate the difficult waters of searching for new employment, Doug is definitely the person you should call!

Wes Avants
Executive Director, Physician Leadership Institute

Living With a Community Connection

What is your sense of community?

Living in a community takes on many different definitions depending upon your view. The traditional meanings include family, neighborhood, church/religion, school, organization, ethnicity, city, county, state, and country.

The news is full of serious events impacting communities of all kinds. My question today is how well connected are you to your communities?

Continue Reading »

Open Letter to New Managers

How's Your First Assignment Going?

This is an open letter to the many who have taken on roles of leadership at their work. It is particularly focused on managers who are sitting on the other side of the desk for the first time.


What went through your mind the first few days on the job as a new manager? I remember my first assignment vividly.

Despite having gone through college as a business management major and serving in several key internships where I was able to spread my wings as a manager, nothing hit me like the sobering reality of the first day on the job.

Continue Reading »

Managers: Put Some Fun in Your Day

It's Worked Before

How do you put fun in your day? That sounds like a simple question.


Keeping the fun element alive every day can be a big challenge. Life gets in the way, right?

I have a new friend in Tony Brigmon. Tony’s claim to fame is that he was, for many years, the “Ambassador of Fun” at Southwest Airlines. Yes, the same Southwest that is notorious for its culture of fun and performance.

Continue Reading »

Covenant Leadership: A Radical Change of Heart

Your commitment to a leadership role can take two similar but divergent paths.



Let’s compare the ideas of working by covenant versus working by contract.

The term “contract” is pretty familiar to most of us. We are used to signing contracts of one form or another. Examples include everything from your mobile phone to a car loan.

“Covenant” though is a term we don’t see much these days. Operating with a covenant is relying on a one sided pledge. It is similar in meaning to the idea of “contract”, although the two words are not perfectly synonymous, and the differences between them are significant.

Continue Reading »