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Leadership Transitions: Planning for Successful Succession

Leadership transitions come in many forms and each type of transition presents unique opportunities for bad-ass’ery, as well as challenges that come with stress-induced nausea.

Effectively navigating these transitions makes a massive difference to organizational continuity and success. It makes a massive difference in employee satisfaction and retention, in remaining on track with achieving goals, and in the rest of the leadership team’s ability to keep their donuts down.

It is a huge mistake to undervalue and underprioritize leadership development during a leadership transition.

Common Types of Leadership Transitions

Leadership transitions can take various forms, depending on the context and circumstances. Some common types of leadership transitions include:

  1. Succession Planning: Planned transitions where a successor is identified and to take over the leadership role when the current leader departs due to retirement, promotion, or other reasons.
  2. Interim Leadership: Temporary appointments of leaders to fill a vacant position until a permanent replacement is found such as during times of organizational change.
  3. External Hire: Bringing in a new leader from outside the organization to lead a team or department, often to bring in fresh perspectives or address specific challenges.
  4. Internal Promotion: Elevating an existing employee to a leadership position within the organization based on their performance, skills, and potential.
  5. Merger or Acquisition: Leadership transitions that occur as a result of organizational restructuring, mergers, or acquisitions.

Let’s talk more about the first listed transition – Succession Planning. Right now we see an average age of 45-55 years old for individuals in Senior Leadership and Executive Leadership positions. And the average tenure of a Senior or Executive leader is 5 years in their position. And historically (to give more context), a person in a CEO position has had an average of 25 years of leadership experience prior to rising to that level.

We are already seeing these numbers begin to shift, and I believe we’ll see a drastic flip within the next 6-8 years (the next section explains why). The average age of Senior Leaders and Executives will decrease, and the average tenure will slide down (with more recent generations statistically holding positions for shorter periods of time).

Generational Succession

One of the primary successions we will experience in the coming years will be due to retirement. Leadership statistics reveal that about 10,000 Baby Boomers reach the retirement age of 65 every day. This means that in the upcoming years Gen Xers and Millennials will be taking the leadership reins.

At present, there are 72+ million Millennials in the US (making up the largest generation group), and the average age of a Millennial manager is between 25 and 29. This indicates that Millennials are already taking over leadership positions, and expectations are that the average age of CEOs in some industries will drop from 45 to 25 years old.

As companies prep for the next generation of leaders to rise up, it’s worth understanding their perspectives on tenure, their relationship to work, and their values related to making organizational impact. This sets strategies for how to find and place them, what may help to retain them, and what’s necessary to train/groom them. Based on predictions of how long these leaders may stay in their position, they will need to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time. This means hiring smart and creating an environment where they can reach a high-level of leadership potential fairly quickly.

So, where to begin?

Planning for Development

First, drop the illusion and the bias. Cross-generational workforces are an advantage and not a roadblock. Millennials don’t need Baby Boomers and Gen Xers rolling their eyes at them anymore. Every generation presents unique traits based on their world environments as they grew up. Each of us (in whatever generation) are the way we are, so let’s take some pressure off of feeling annoyed by generational differences, and shift perspectives a bit. It’s how we move forward and leverage what we all have to offer.

Second, place responsibility where it belongs. Not every bad match between a hire and an organization is because that was the wrong person. Maybe yours was the wrong company (it goes both ways). So slow down enough to take appropriate time to hire smart and strategically. And once they are on board, thoroughly support them in their development.

That brings us to number three – Prioritize leadership development in generational succession planning. Now, you may be skeptical about pouring time and resources into someone (a Millennial) who “may not stick around very long.” But here’s the thing, some of them do. And unless I am mistaken, you do not have a crystal ball that predicts which leader/employee will stay longer and which one will leave faster. But if you put time and resources into someone, they are more likely to stick around because they feel valued (that’s true for anyone). Be objective and give them a chance. Millennials place a high value on feeling purposeful and growing from challenge. So build up their skills, build up their attributes, build them up as a person. Skepticism will only hurt everyone, but giving them a chance may be the greatest move you ever made.

“Hire smart people, give them room to step up, and let them learn… they won’t sink the company. But a lack of confident, capable future leaders just might.” [Forbes]

And fourth… Join the next Round Table Discussion. The discussion for Q1 will be held virtually and focused on Strategies for Seamless Leadership Succession, with multiple subtopics as well. And you can have a say in choosing a date/time that works for you (use the link).

There will be a facilitated discussion as well as open forum for leaders to have Q&A or share from experience. You can read more, and sign up by clicking this link!


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