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Leadership succession.

While speaking recently with a director of an IT business, the conversation gravitated towards leadership and management. He let slip that he had purposely avoided leadership roles over a career spanning 14 years... 

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This was someone who was very proficient in their technical role but had no ambitions to ascend the ‘normal’ corporate ladder, inheriting and building teams and maintaining responsibility for other departments and branches - a concept that is probably alien to the more seasoned generations. 

However, this is not, an isolated incident or one that is indigenous to the IT world. Some of the reasons that were cited included wanting to maintain a work-life balance, lacking the necessary skill set, not desiring the responsibility that goes with the territory, for example, having to dismiss/discipline staff, and recognising the existence of disproportionate amounts of stress and worry for the remuneration on offer.

The danger for businesses is not recognising early enough that this is how some of their staff will feel and view their careers. Heads of organisations can often make the mistake of assuming that the rising stars of today who are technically good at what they do will eventually want to step into the shoes of retiring/departing leaders, thus keeping the business alive and enabling a smooth transition to take place. Once the realisation hits home, finding a solution can take up a considerable amount of time both during and outside of office hours and may involve hiring new staff who may or may not work out long term as new leaders. So what can you do about it?

  • Where is your succession plan? When was the last time it was reviewed, what’s changed in the meantime? In short, is it fit for purpose?
  • Who do you recognise as tomorrow’s leaders? Do they share that vision/aspiration too, or are you making assumptions?
  • Invest in the leadership and management skills tomorrow’s leaders will need to acquire. They won’t obtain these skills by osmosis and just because someone is technically good this isn’t indicative as to how they will perform in a leadership role. In fact the reverse is very often the case.
  • What other measures can you implement to demonstrate a commitment to reducing the pressures and responsibilities of leadership whilst providing additional support such as coaching and mentoring to those that step up?

Thinking about all of the above is vital. Devise a strong plan of succession that has been built with your people in mind. Find out what their long-term goals are and map these into the future leadership of your organisation. But if you aren’t certain about how to get your people on board, or your technical expects need help fulfilling their leadership potential, then speak to our learning and development experts. 

If  Ralph Nader is correct when he said “the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not followers” then organisations need to question the investment they are making into their current and future leaders if the organisation is to survive in a growing competitive and unpredictable market.