Succession: Are You Ready?
by Marshall Goldsmith
Stepping down from the position of chief executive officer can be one of the most difficult tasks for a leader who has spent a career climbing up the corporate ladder to its loftiest height. To help those who are ready to move on to life after a chief executive position, coaching expert Marshall Goldsmith has written a succinct little book called Succession: Are You Ready? to ease common separation pains and to smooth the transition for both leader and organisation.
Several issues face the CEO who is ready to step down. First is the prospect of preparing for the day when somebody else takes the company’s reins. The analogy that Goldsmith revisits again and again throughout Succession is the image of the relay runner who must pass the baton to the next runner.
The first runner is not only working to keep her speed up so her team can win the race, but she must also carefully turn the baton loose firmly into the hand of the next runner, who has already begun to pick up her pace. This process involves slowing down just enough to properly hand over control of the vital link between the two people while maintaining a winning speed.
This metaphor offers a deeply insightful perspective on the work a leaving CEO must accomplish. Along with this vital handoff of the organisation to his or her successor, the successful transition also involves choosing a successor, coaching the successor in the best ways to lead the organisation, giving up control, and preparing for life after the CEO position has been handed off.
Making a positive transition
Goldsmith packs a lot of valuable content into the book’s small size. As the author of The Leader of the Future and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There (the winner of Soundview’s 2007 Harold Longman Award for Best Business Book of the Year, and a top executive coach, Goldsmith is well qualified to offer CEOs behavioural advice on how to make a positive transition from the loftiest spot in the company to the next phase of life.
The process Goldsmith describes begins with preparation for the leader’s “slowing down” phase, which is essential to allowing the next person in line to take control of the organisation.
Next, Goldsmith describes how the most successful leaders let go of the baton and move on to a happy and healthy life beyond the CEO position. This part of the journey involves shifting one’s mind away from the constant earning of big money and the enjoyment of the position’s many benefits to the satisfaction of finding other work that is personally rewarding.
By helping CEOs face the giant shift that will take place in their sources of wealth, perks, status, power, relationships and happiness, Goldsmith helps them work through the realities of finding meaning in life and making a contribution to the world after leaving the CEO role.
Choosing the right successor
Next, Succession focuses on choosing the right successor, either from inside the organisation or from outside its walls, and coaching that successor through the entire power-exchange process. Personal stories from Goldsmith’s many experiences as an executive educator show leaders how to avoid common mistakes that can thwart success.
Lastly, Goldsmith explores the time after the baton is passed from former CEO to new CEO. By highlighting the accomplishments of those who have made graceful exits from their companies, and describing examples of leaders who were able to declare victory and show some class on their way out, Goldsmith offers CEOs a wealth of advice on how to make the smartest final moves that can help a company prosper into the future.