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Leaders need to identify and develop their successors.

By Atip Muangsuwan

John C. Maxwell said, “There is no success without a successor.”

Myles Munroe also said, “Leadership success is measured by the success of your successor.”

There was a client who’s a high-level executive of a governmental organization bringing a topic about his successor to our coaching session. The outcome he wished to get by the end of this session was… he wished to know… 1) Who should be his successor? 2) How could he develop his successor?

I started coaching him with his second wish first. Because I believed if we could get the answers to this wish first, then the answer to the first wish would automatically be revealed.

After I used my coaching process with him, the answers to his second wish appeared as follows:

  1. Give assignments and evaluate the candidates.
  2. Provide training courses to close the gaps and to build upon their strengths.
  3. Give the candidates the opportunities or stages to show and share their own ideas, initiatives, creativity and innovation in their work.
  4. Develop the candidates to perform as a “one-stop service” for their clients and their boss.
  5. Develop them to possess and exhibit strong leadership skills.
  6. Develop them to possess and exhibit the growth mindset.
  7. Ask them to come up with their role models and to learn from them.

After we got this list, I moved him to his first wish; that is, who should be his successor. He told me that he had 2 successor candidates kept in his mind for his consideration.

Then, I asked him to describe each candidate in details.

He described to me that… “Mr. A is a very hard-working and very responsible person. However, he has a problem with leadership skills and creative thinking skill to solve problems and issues. He usually waits for directions and guidance from me. So, he lacks the innovation and initiatives in his work. He has demonstrated to me as the fixed- mindset type of person. Nevertheless, he has the most years of work experience and the most seniority after me.

Mr. B is excellent at leadership skills and creative-problem solving skill. His subordinates love him very much. He could build and motivate his team very well. He has demonstrated to me as the growth-mindset type of person. He could perform as a “one-stop service” leader. Whenever I give him any assignments, he never fails me. He always provides me with more alternatives to the solution. However, Mr. B has less years of work experience and less seniority than Mr. A.”

Then, I asked my client, “Do years of work experience and seniority matter to you for picking your successor?”

He said that if he promoted Mr. B to be his successor, then Mr. A might not support or give his cooperation to Mr. B.

So, I asked him, “If so, how are you going to solve this issue?”

My client paused for a while and said, “I might move or rotate Mr. A to other job function like a specialist instead.”

I asked him… “So, now you can decide who will be your successor, can’t you?”

My client suddenly got the Aha moment! He replied… “Yes, I can now. And now I can understand why you started coaching me on my second wish first. Because the answers from my second wish could give me clarity, confidence and support to pick the right successor.

Then, I asked what insights he got from our coaching conversation.

He said his insights are as follows:

  1. He got the decision made about his successor based on the fact-based rather than emotional-based.
  2. He had a chance to reflect on his own career path and how he could get to where he is now. So, he could use these to develop his successor.
  3. His own Aha moment was that he couldn’t grow a mango tree to become an apple tree although he had tried so hard. In this metaphor, he referred it to Mr. A.
  4. There’s more than one solution to a problem. This was referred to the job options for Mr. A when he couldn’t be the successor. (We were discussing about the career path options for Mr. A.)

My insight from this coaching session is that… “Leaders need to identify and develop their successors because leadership success is measured by the success of your successor.” 

“For leaders and executives, your successor is your legacy.”