Anyone who has constructed sandcastles knows how fragile they can be. Minutes after they’re made, incoming waves swoop in to swallow them up and wash them away. Sadly, many leaders’ legacies suffer the same fate. They diligently build an organization for years only to see it disintegrate as soon as they’ve gone.
There is no lasting success without successors. If you do not identify, equip, and develop a leader to carry on the work you have begun, then it’s likely to unravel once you transition elsewhere. As Max De Pree has said, “Succession is one of the key responsibilities of leadership.”
Training a successor is difficult because they usually make mistakes early on. As the incumbent leader, it feels as if everything will go more smoothly if you just stay in the driver’s seat. In fact, it will go easier. That is, until you leave, and then everything is in danger of falling apart. It may take a successor several months to get acquainted with new leadership responsibilities. While the road may be rocky at first, eventually they will learn the skills needed to lead and can be trusted to successfully guide the organization in your absence.
However, training a successor isn’t just a last-minute chore—something to do on the way out the door. Rather, you can prepare your successor now through the character you display, the choices you make, and the seeds you sow.
Having character means being and becoming a moral example. As leaders, we teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are. In other words, people do what people see. Integrity—being true to yourself—and honesty—being truthful with others—are two traits essential to character. When your life and work displays impeccable character, then your example will linger on in the hearts and minds of your teammates long after you have departed.
Obviously, the consequences of our choices have repercussions, but our approach to decision-making also impacts others. To make the right decisions consistently, we can’t let external influence or peer pressure cause us to ignore our conscience and do something unethical. Instead, we must be guided by vision and values. When developing successors, show them how to think clearly about options and how to select carefully among alternatives. That is, share the process by which you draw on your knowledge, experiences, moral conscience, and sense of purpose to make difficult decisions.
Whether positive or negative, our actions have consequences. Yesterday’s bad choices cause us to spend today repairing the messes we’ve made, whereas the wise choices of the past position us to take advantage of today’s opportunities. Success is based on the seeds you sow, not the harvest you reap. If you sow wisely and diligently, the harvest is automatic. Sow daily in the lives of others, by adding value to them, and your investment will compound over time.
Thought to Ponder
Whose influence has shaped your life and leadership in a profoundly positive way? What enabled him or her to make such an impact on you?