Explainers

Succession Planning for Yourself: How to Find a New Leader When It’s Time to Move On

It’s tempting to want to find another “you” to lead the team—instead, evaluate needed skills and adopt a growth mindset to find the right candidate

One of the marks of a great leader is that at some point, they know it’s time to move on. Maybe the team has achieved everything they set out to do, or maybe they’re just in need of a new personal challenge. Whatever the reason, it often creates one of the biggest unexpected challenges of their career: finding a suitable replacement to lead the team they’ve invested so much energy and passion in.

Recently, we worked with a client facing this exact dilemma: she wanted to switch into a different role in her organization, but wasn’t sure any of her direct reports could easily step into her shoes. How do you replace yourself?

First, a little flattery: in a way, you are irreplaceable. In fact, even you couldn’t replace yourself: the “you” that started the role isn’t “you” now. You’ve gone through unique experiences, learned new skills, and grown as a leader. Not only that, everyone puts their own spin on a job, and especially if you’ve been in your role for some time, you’ve probably crafted it to your own unique abilities. Instead of looking for a carbon copy of yourself at your current stage of development, consider the following:

  • Do think about your legacy. What sort of a lasting impact do you want to leave on your team, and how should it evolve? If the market has changed significantly since you first joined, or if the team has scaled dramatically, it’s entirely possible that your team will need to operate differently—and that your successor will therefore need to have very different skills than you have.
  • Do determine “need to have” vs. “nice to have.” To the best of your ability, objectively analyze what skills are most critical for the role—you may find it helpful to use even over statements to define trade-offs you’ll have to make. It’s also important to acknowledge that the new person will also bring new capabilities and ways of doing things.
  • Do adopt a growth mindset. It’s tempting to use quizzes like StrengthsFinder to find a good fit, but be careful—these tests look for already developed abilities, not potential. Remember, you didn’t know all the things you needed to know when you first started.
  • Don’t “test” potential candidates. Putting candidates in a situation where you’re “secretly” testing their response erodes trust. If you’ve found a good internal candidate, the next time you’re facing an important decision, bring them in and discuss it. Ask them what they might do, explain how you’re evaluating the situation, and why you’re reaching a particular decision. This can help them better align with your way of thinking and prepare them to take over the role.
  • Don’t leave it to the last minute. Finding and training a new leader takes time, so make sure that you begin succession planning as soon as feasible.

Want to learn more about finding your team’s next leader? Listen in to this month’s podcast on succession planning —just jump to 16:00 in the discussion.

Published February 24, 2020