Succession Planning and Mentorship


In Africa one of the major challenges is that of succession planning. There is so much controversy around it. Despite the fact that the well known dictum clearly states – there is no success without a successor, many churches, business and political organisations still leave the issue of succession to chance. However leaders who are concerned about leaving a legacy will not allow the important matter of who carries on the baton and takes over their mantle to chance or political infighting. These leaders deliberately create a leadership pipeline that has intentionally mentored and groomed people who can easily fill in the shoes of the leader if he departs the scene.

Many on the African continent prefer to have the decision of who succeeds them to be settled after their death. Unfortunately it means you cannot help shape the person who should be perpetuating your legacy. In businesses if the leader recruits from outside it means he is admitting to leadership failure. He is conceding to the fact that as a leader he failed in one of the primary functions of a leader which is developing other leaders.  A new comer from the outside is likely to change things and nullify a lot of what this predecessor has done. He has no commitment to continuing the legacy of his predecessor. Whereas a protégé will build upon the foundation laid by his mentor. This is how legacy is perpetuated. Leaders do not leave your ;legacy to chance. You can mentor and raise up your successors so that they continue to build on what you have done. This allows for trans-generational impact.

A purposeful leader will deliberately take some young generation candidates and mentor them so that they can easily fill in the top post once the leader is gone. The other issue is that ideally succession should happen while the primary leader is still alive so that he can act as elder statesmen and counselor to the next generation. In both business and politics this assures that the elder statesmen will be able to provide a steadying hand to the new leader as he learns how to run the show. It is therefore negligent of a leader to allow chance to produce his successor.  Mentorship therefore allows for a smoother transition of power.

Mentorship allows a leader to pass on his values, philosophy and worldview to the person that he is mentoring. By passing on these the leader ensures that his values and philosophy will live on in the organization.

The Bible records numerous successions which went on well due to mentorship. Examples are Elijah and Elisha, Moses and Joshua, Abraham mentored Isaac, Samuel mentored David, Paul mentored Timothy etc. A classic modern day business example is Jack Welch who mentored about three potential successors.  Although only one was chosen to lead GE, the other two both went on to become powerful CEO in other organizations.

It is clear that we need to intentionally mentor and raise the next generation of leaders to allow for smoother transitions as well as longer lasting impact. A mentored successor will have assimilated the organizational culture and therefore is unlikely to change it radically. I would encourage introducing new leaders from the outside if the organization is failing and new ideas are needed. If the organization is well run and doing well i.e. if the leader was successful, then he should allow the transition to happen from inside.

If yor succession is well planned and potential succesors are mentored to prolongs your leadership influence.

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2 thoughts on “Succession Planning and Mentorship”

  1. Indeed the issue of succession planning is one area many executives or politicians shy away from. It is left untouched until too late. People are left to think, ponder, assume, speculate hence unnecessary infighting begins. The other issue I see is that there is usual “fear” that if a leader is deliberate and up front about who is likely to take over, people will start discrediting, mud slinging and doing all sorts of negative publicity of the successor bringing confusion to the leader who is desiring to be succeeded. The benefits of being intentional about who is taking over far outweigh the disdavantages (leaving it until the leader has left office). If the new incumbent spends time with successor it is highly likely that the organization will not re-invent the wheel when the time for leadership change takes place. The successor will be well positioned such that he/she is simply tweaking and picking the ideas and values that work and avoiding the pitfalls of the previous leader. This method benefits all parties: organization has smooth transition, new leader is well prepared and not groping in the dark and the one leaving office has peace that his/her legacy will not suffer abuse. For Africa, it is mandatory for a Succession 101 module to be taught in Leadership and Business School.

    1. True Rabison. The main mistake is that many leaders assume they have to make a decision on who exactly will succeed them from onset. leaders should create a succession plan that involves a number of potential successors in the leadership pipeline and mentor these. With time it becomes evident who is most capable. The proteges should be exposed to the wide variety of organisational roles and tested in many positions. The final decision of who takes over is taken at the very end of the process. As a leader you should have options. What happens if your preferred successor dropped dead or moved cities? So you should have a number of people being groomed and mentored. The danger is that the leader to suit his purposes may begin to play one against the other. This temptation should be avoided.

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