3 Keys to Successfully Pass the Baton

John Smith started a company 30 years ago and during that time it experienced significant growth and enjoyed respect in its industry. Recently John has considered scaling back and enjoying more of the fruits of his labor. He also wants to expand his ministry involvement and have a more meaningful engagement outside his business. The only problem is that John’s assumed successor, his daughter Karen, may not be ready to take over the business. How does John let go and move on with grace while positioning his business to thrive in the future?

Here are three keys necessary to effectively pass the baton to a successor.

  1. Prepare yourself.

“It’s easy to fall in love with the baton of leadership,” says thought leader, Marshall Goldsmith. Business provides people with intangible benefits of challenge, contribution and context or meaning. In addition, there are the tangible benefits of wealth, status, power and perks. Many business owners are stuck because they don’t know how they will get from where they are to a future life of contribution and meaning after departing the company. To make a successful transition, it’s important to build a bridge from one’s current role to a future life.

In order to bridge the gap, John needs to envision a future and develop a plan with key milestones on what it will take to build his future before leaving his company. If not, he may find reasons to stay longer than he should.

Reflection Questions:

What will provide you the challenge, contribution and meaning that you experienced at work? How will you feel about letting go of the status, power and perks you’ve come to enjoy?

  1. Prepare your successor.
  • Evaluate capabilities.

John needs to consider his successor’s strengths and challenges. Often the challenges are behavioral in nature. If these challenges are persistent, it may require an outside coach to work on the behavioral issues.  Two of the biggest behavioral issues most leaders face are communicating effectively and listening to and seeking input from others.

  • Provide development opportunities.

A key for John is to provide opportunities for Karen to lead different departments and key projects in order to round out her skill set. In addition, he needs to provide consistent coaching and feedback. Developing a plan with Karen, with key goals and milestones, would help chart progress. At some point, John may need to consider an outside coach that has the expertise in the areas needed to help Karen.

  • Assess motivation for lasting change.

All of John’s coaching and feedback may be futile if Karen does not see a need for change. Assessing her motivation along the way will help accelerate this process.

Reflection Questions: What opportunities can better prepare my successor to assume leadership? How receptive is my successor to coaching and feedback from others and from me?

  1. Make a graceful exit.

Once Karen has assumed control of the company, it’s time for John to leave. Assuming he’s done the appropriate work up-front to prepare, it’s now time for him to pass the baton and allow Karen to assert her leadership without being under his shadow.

Many family-owned businesses have difficulty passing the baton because they are not intentional about one or more of the three keys to successful transition.

Reflection Question: Do I have the three keys in place to effectively pass the baton, leave with grace and ensure a thriving future for my business?

Written by Kathy Woodliff: Woodliff Global Consulting