Succession Planning

On Leadership and How to Succeed at Succession

Succession Planning

Leading an organization or a program is often a very tough job by itself.

But imagine if you find yourself in a new role where you are replacing an already established leader.

Understanding the Playing Field

Whether the leader you are succeeding has been doing well or not, it is a tough challenge. If your predecessor had excelled at his position, you have a reputation to follow and you do not want to taint it.

On the contrary, when the previous leader had not been doing so well, there is great expectation from you to build up momentum.

After all, that’s the reason you were hired to do the job.

Understanding Performance

On several occasions, I have had to fill in shoes in some highly visible positions and I remember feeling the pressure. As visibility increases, so does the pressure to perform. My thought process at that time was that no matter what I do, I have to do better.

On one occasion, I took a new position, but I had not closely watched or studied my predecessor. This made it difficult to figure out what exactly I had to perform better than. I had to do some quick research and determine what my performance metrics looked like.

This extra effort in researching my predecessor’s leadership style, performance, and results helped me understand how I was going to be judged by others and gave me a heads-up about my playing field.

How to Succeed at Succession

There are several factors one needs to keep in mind when taking over the role of another leader. Understanding these three main elements can put you ahead and help you be a success.

Leadership Style

The very first thing that I had to come to terms with was the fact that no matter how I performed, I would have to deal with some amount of comparison with my predecessor.

I also had to prepare myself that I would also be facing some cases criticism, as well.

Therefore I had to develop a thick skin and more importantly tune out that noise and simply concentrate on the job at hand.

In all succession scenarios, I quickly realized that every leader has his or her own style. And even though I was filling in someone’s shoes, I didn’t have to necessarily follow the same style or approach.

What I needed to do was to slowly bring in my unique strength to the situation without causing a stir.

Program Details

When it came down to the details of the actual work, I needed to take a two-step approach.

The first thing was to figure out what is working. Just because I am succeeding someone and I happen to have a different leadership style, doesn’t mean I have to change everything.

If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

Identifying what to keep is the most crucial part of this process. Keeping these areas intact ensures stability.

Next step is to focus on what is not working. Clearly in every program, things become obsolete and need change. If my predecessor had not been doing well, there will be a lot of changes required. It really depends on the situation.

After figuring out areas that need attention, you start focusing on how to fix it.


I took some time to study the current state of the program, strategized on how and what to change, and then communicated to all the relevant stakeholders.

This is also a good time to look at long-term strategy, resources, milestones etc. and do a level-set with the stakeholders. Your stakeholders can be customers or other leaders in the organization.

You have to enlist support from the relevant team and sell your vision on how to bring about change.

Tricky Business

Succession is a tricky business. It gets easier when one is being groomed for the position, but either way it requires careful positioning and execution.

So, have you ever taken over a leadership role from someone else? How did the transition go? Where you groomed for the post, or was it a sink-or-swim scenario? How are you planning successions for important roles at your organization? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Aditi Chopra
Aditi Chopra is an experienced leader in the software industry
She is a consultant, writer and a leader
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On Leadership, Growth and Professional Development


When it comes to employee development, who should take responsibility? Should it be the employee, the boss, human resources, the leadership team, or a combination of either some or all of them?

After all, leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

Employee Growth and Development

Having been on both sides of the manager-employee equation, I sometimes wonder who should take responsibility of an employee’s growth and development.

I am a firm believer of self-awareness and constant growth of an individual.

Personally, the process of identifying a development area and then working on it is now ingrained in me and I consciously work on it. However, some aspects of an individual are harder to identify and work on than others. Some habits, if not identified and worked on in the nascent stage, can become an annoying trait.

And these annoying traits can come back to bite an individual in the most crucial times.

A Leader’s Perspective

I believe that as well as an employee taking responsibility for his or her own growth, managers should also give timely and appropriate feedback. Of all of my personality traits I have worked on over the years, some were easily identifiable by me.

However, there were a couple of weaknesses that if not pointed out by my manager, I would never have identified the root cause and possibly never worked on them.

From my experience, each and every aspect of an individual can be worked on by carefully identifying the root of the problem and then coming up with proper steps to correct it.

Having an understanding mentor or coach is the key to this process especially for those problems that are harder to work on. Sometimes a couple of different solutions may have to be tried before one can completely fix a problem but the key is to keep trying.

Manager or Leader?

What I have often seen is that most managers (if not all) dread when the time comes to giving performance evaluations to their employees.

This begs the question “Why?”

Evaluating an employee’s performance should not be such a fearful process.

  • After all, aren’t managers are also supposed to be coaches for their direct reports?
  • Isn’t annual review the time for employee growth and development?
  • Shouldn’t performance evaluation be the time where managers can be proud of their coaching skills?

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.

Frequency of Feedback

Well, there is only one explanation of why this happens. These managers don’t give direct feedback to the employees all year round and wait for the yearly performance evaluation cycle. Some companies conduct mid-year evaluations.

Even if companies don’t mandate a mid-year performance evaluation, managers should make it a habit to give feedback to their employees throughout the course of the working year.

Leader as Coach

Another important aspect of the review process is that any feedback should not come as a surprise to the employee at the performance evaluation time. If the feedback is a surprise, it would certainly make the process difficult and dreadful.

Coaching employees is one of the most rewarding skills for a manager and they should make it work to everyone’s advantage.

I would urge all managers to not let any annoying habit fester in an employee. Help them identify the root cause and work with them to correct it.

It is quite possible that they may not be fully aware of the issue and simply need an empathetic guidance.

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Aditi Chopra
Aditi Chopra is an experienced leader in the software industry
She is a consultant, writer and a leader
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Organizational Health: I’m Not Here For The Money

Empty Pockets

Talent development, succession planning, leadership training – call it what you want . . . but be serious about it. 

In most organizations, talent development is probably the most under-budgeted, under-staffed, under-creative, and underutilized department in the organization.

The First Thing To Go

I know a person who was laid off three months ago when his entire Talent Development Department was eliminated due to budget cuts.

Anyone in training or HR knows the old saying, “Training is always the first one to go.”

It happens over and over again, when actually during budget cuts is not the time to cut talent development.  But that’s just one portion of the whole picture.

Looking to the Past for Hope

What I’ve been seeing so much of lately is that leaders don’t want to try anything “new” and they don’t want to invest any (more) money.  They want to stick to the same old tried and true models.

So when they go to hire, most leaders look mainly at things like this:

“What you’ve done in the past…”

“What positions you have had in the past…”

Rather than looking forward at things like this:

“What you can do for us now…?”

“What you can bring to us in the future…?”

In this day and age (and economy,) no one can simply rest on their laurels, so to speak.

A Healthy Understanding

We have seen through numerous studies over the last few years that money is not the number one thing employee’s want from their jobs.  Up around the top of most desired benefits from employment is usually something to do with development/promotion opportunities.

Consequently, it’s the job of the HR and organization leaders to stop and say, “Hey, we need to start looking at this more seriously and investing in it”.

According to a recent survey by Burson-Marsteller and global research training firm Great Place to Work, the top two programs that help companies achieve stability are Branding (75%) and Career Development (75%).  What’s that?  Career development?  Hmmmm.

When you only hire someone on the grounds of what he HAS done in the past – over and over – then that’s what you’re going to get, the same OLD stuff.  Not only does leadership need to look at what the person HAS done, but what he CAN do, and WILL do in the future, and build upon that.

Modern Day Training and Development

There have been so many advances in training techniques over just the last few years.  The days of the instructor standing at the front of the room talking about textbook theories (boooooring…..) are gone – or should be.

Now we can add video, audio, animation, Internet links, and infographics to our PowerPoints (remember to keep your slides simple).

We can make it easier for employees to get access to training with online courses using such programs as Lectora or Captivate.  We can get the message out to more people at one time with social media, Go-to-Training, Google hangouts or your own built in video/teleconferencing.

And don’t forget about team facilitation, gaming, and other types of interactive programs.  There are countless ideas if you just look for them.

Looking Fresh. Feeling Fresh.

Don’t hire the guy that’s done the same thing over and over for 25 years.  That’s just going to get you the same thing that he started out with and has been regurgitating for years.

Hire for experience AND knowledge AND attitude.

If you look at the most successful organizations today, you’ll see that they do just that – Disney, Zappos, Wegman’s.  And sometimes the focus is mainly on attitude.  That way you have a better chance of people “fitting” in the organization and staying longer.

But leadership also has to do their part.  unfortunately, quite often they just hire and hope for the best.  This is quite sad because developing your talent from within is one of the most important aspects and advantages of your business.  This is what employee’s want and what your organization needs.

Creating a Magic Kingdom

Here’s a good example.  The Walt Disney Company (my fave).  I would LOVE to get a job there training with the Disney Institute, HR, or about anything else for that matter.  However, that may not ever happen.  Disney does a great job of promoting from within.

They do that with a lot of cross-training and putting cast members in positions where their knowledge of the organization will work best . . . like training.

Facilitators at the Disney Institute and Disney Traditions (orientation) classes have all come up within the organization.  In fact cast members who facilitate in Traditions may very well be heading to work at the Jungle Cruise or Tower of Terror after class.

A Final Note:

Leaders – the composition of the office has changed, and you have to acknowledge that.  We now have FOUR generations of workers in our businesses:

  • Mature/World War II Generation (born before 1946)
  • Baby Boomers (1946–1965)
  • Generation X (1966–1980)
  • Generation Y/Millennials (1981–2000)

I guarantee you that the Gen-X’s and Gen-Y’s do not learn well in the same ways as the previous two generations. So for leaders and the people in charge of the organizational health, it is highly important to train and develop in ways that work for EVERYBODY!

So ask yourselves a couple of these questions:

Where is my organization honestly headed?  What do my employees want?  How many employees do I lose to competitors who develop them better than me?  What’s my next step? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Andy Uskavitch
Andy Uskavitch is Leadership Development and Customer Service Specialist
He develops and facilitates Leadership, Motivation & Teambuilding Seminars
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Leadership Nostalgia: The Perils of Leading in the Past

Leadership Nostalgia

Are we leading organizations, ministries, groups or teams as though we are living in 1990 – or worse yet, 1950? Non-profits are most guilty, living in the founder’s dreams way beyond their life cycle.

Such visions were birthed in a former reality and the values, decisions, strategies and structures reflected that reality.

News Flash – it is 2013.

Looking Back

The past is cool, even if it was hard. Every day brought doubts, fears and unanswerable questions:

  • Will we have enough customers, recruit enough attendees, ever have a positive cash flow balance?
  • Will we be ready to handle what an uncharted future holds?
  • Will we ever really know what we we’re doing?

It was wild, and we were irrational. Especially we entrepreneurs! Just ask Jeffrey Bussgang

Leadership Nostalgia

Leadership Qualities

There is a kind of “leadership nostalgia” that robs us of present-day effectiveness and a truly transformational future. Just look at any arena of work. The problem is nostalgia is selective; we only remember the extremes.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” said Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities, a perfect opening line for any new venture! As we recall the past, we either lived from one crisis to another or “everything just exploded and we could not even keep up with demand…what a rush!!!”

There were no normal days…or so we thought. But leading in the past is dangerous.

Look at these examples:

  • In America, one political group wants to restore American values while another wants to recreate the protest–driven activism of the 1960’s.
  • One graduate school clings to maintaining a purist “on-campus” experience for everyone; another hires a new President who will “take us back to the glory years” of our institution.
  • One church does a contemporary makeover – cooler music, hipper pastors, newer buildings, but still equates more butts in seats and dollars in the budget as success. Another appeals to “the early church” as THE model, unaware that all 1st century strategies do not meet 21st century challenges.

Leading the Future

We need to be leading OUT OF the past, not IN the past.

We need to be learning FROM the past, not longing FOR the past.

Here is what it takes to make that change:

Look Backward Briefly

Driving blindly into the future creates the same head-on collision as staring intently into the rear view mirror. Mine lessons from the past quickly because too much leadership nostalgia sucks the creative energy from the room. And take time to learn from mistakes. Scott Berkun has a great post on how to categorize and analyze your mistakes.

But don’t dwell on the past – mistakes or successes.

People care very little about what you did 40 years ago; time to get connected to the world TODAY and tell some new stories.

Get Very Clear about the Core…and Move On!

Look closely at values, culture, services, and products. Do we need it all? What some think is “our DNA” is really an extension of personal philosophy. If the organism is changing, so is the DNA.

Preserve only what really matters.

The Future is Not Yours Alone

Here is where most founders and long-term leaders get stuck. They have a “This is my baby” mentality – I gave it life!” Thinking they are “passing the baton” or “preparing the next generation to lead” they have changed only the ship’s crew, asking them to sail the same vessel.

Sure, it got a paint job and some high-tech navigation equipment, but it is still The SS Yesteryear.

In the cargo hold you’ll find the same vision, same strategies, and desires for younger leaders to utilize the same leadership style (theirs, of course). For church leaders, look at Protégé: Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders by Steve Saccone and for business leaders you will gain much from Feeding Your Leadership Pipeline by Dan Tobin.

Do you have the courage to hand the rudder to a new crew and let them overhaul the entire vessel? Or even put this boat in dry dock and build a new ship? That’d be courageous leadership!

From Wall Street to Main Street to the streets surrounding Capitol Hill, it is time for new leadership models, approaches, strategies and structures.

Will you be part of the team to build them? Will you let others really own the process and the outcomes? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Dr. Bill Donahue
Dr. Bill Donahue is President of LeaderSync Group, Inc

Bill is a professor at TIU and a Leadership Speaker and Consultant
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Lonely At The Top

It’s Lonely at the Top – 4 Ways to Help Employees Make the Step Change to Leader

Lonely At The Top

In a recent National Post article Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, where shown riding the subway with the caption “Prince Charles shows he’s just a regular bloke.”

Although the article didn’t convince me that the Prince is a regular bloke (I don’t think that regular blokes only take the subway once every 25 years!), it did (in a very strange way) highlight an issue when employees are promoted to leadership positions: they are no longer seen by their former co-workers as “regular blokes.”

The new leader must form new bonds and this, coupled with the pressure of trying to succeed in a new position, can be difficult for the newly promoted leader.

4 Ways to Help Employees Make the Step Change to Leader

Here are four ways that company’s can help to ensure their employees don’t feel lonely at the top.

1. Make Relationship-Building a Part of Leadership Development

Building relationships with co-workers is important. Of equal or maybe greater significance to a leader is their ability to form new relationships with those who report to them. The dynamics of this relationship can be difficult to grasp and therefore should be a part of the professional development of all future leaders.

2. Teach People Skills

It is common practice to select potential leaders within an organization partly based on character traits that would be beneficial to the company. Having a natural ability to relate with others should be one of these traits.

It is great to have a leader that has the technical knowledge to answer specific questions from their team however, the further up the ladder they progress, the less valuable these technical skills become. Great leaders surround themselves with people smarter then they are and find a way to get them to produce – these are people skills, not technical skills.

“Many corporate and governmental organizations assessments of leaders are exclusively focused on how well they handle the files in the inbox. But there is almost no assessment of their leadership skills.” ~ General Rick Hillier

3. Coach, Coach, Coach

Picking the right candidate for the job and providing all the formal training you can find will do little for how your top performer feels the first time they have to give their former lunch room buddy a poor mid-year review unless they receive continuous coaching.

Set your new leader up with someone in a different department that is one or two levels above their position on the org. chart. Of course the coach will need coaching on how to be a coach, but that is a part of the continuous professional development model you have implemented.

4. Team Build

Making friends isn’t easy. Making them with a new group of co-workers is even harder. Not only will frequent opportunities for team development help your newly promoted leader feel like they are part of the group, it will also help those that have been in management positions for a while get to know the new kid on the block.

If there is any resentment held by the more experienced leaders in your company towards the young up and comer, team building can be structured in such a way as to break down the walls of communication and help close the generational gap.

 “Under many existing development models, leaders learn to think about jobs in terms of what they control. This notion has led to excluding others and a lack of teamwork.” ~ Ram Charan

Keeping Real

No one is expecting that when an employee is promoted that they will have to completely drop all friendships they developed in their previous role. Nor are they expected to invite the management team over to watch football on Sunday afternoon (or hockey on Saturday night) with this said, their relationships will change: their new title dictates so.

To help ensure success for the employee and the company, it is important that relationship skills are recognized as a vital skill in their professional development and included in leadership development programs.

Have you experienced the feeling of isolation after being promoted? How much of a divide do you think is healthy between management and a company’s workforce? Do you think social media can help maintain a healthy balance between management and worker or will the line be too blurred? What kind of leadership training does your company offer? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Sandy Cooper, CRSP

Sandy Cooper is a HSEQ Advisor in the offshore oil and gas industry
He works within a management system to help develop worker leadership skills
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