Successful Succession


Ferenc Nagy Performing @ Global Village, Dubai

A Good Leader, a responsible Leader, plans for what is to follow.

S/he never assumes longevity, the Good Leader; remaining proactively aware that one’s tenure on any project or in any company will always come to a close…oftimes foreseen, though not uncommonly and sometimes disastrously ill-timed.

One of the key – if not the crucial – responsibilities of Leadership is the preparation for one’s untimely departure. Focused foresight and planning are integral parts of upholding one’s responsibility as Leader.

Don’t be responsible for leaving teams, projects, companies rudderless. Not for a moment.

This is why many companies do not allow more than one or a very few executives to travel together; the risk of losing vast amounts of institutional and operational knowledge is simply too great.

It is not only the large company that calls for the planning of one’s exit. The fact is that any team needs to be prepared with succession plans for principal losses; most especially, that of the Leader.

How to prepare one’s team? Simple stuff…

Share information. We’ve written before in this space about the value of sharing information; of the resultant empowerment of one’s team and individual investment in the project or goal. Implemented from the start and maintained on a continuous basis; the ongoing sharing of information as a project evolves is key to the successful stepping up of a temporary surrogate or permanent replacement.

Keeping one’s team informed, involving the team in the decision-making process – seeking input and informed opinion – prepares the entire body for the departure of any one individual. …AND, as has been covered previously and will no doubt be covered, again; maintaining engagement of all team members ramps up personal investment in the project or company and tends to result in a far tighter and responsive team and exponentially better result.

When the departing individual is the erstwhile leader, the confidence and value of s/he who follows, knowing the how’s and why’s of the courses of action taken and decisions previously made cannot be overstated. Shared Knowledge is Power; secrets undermine.

Don’t risk a departure or absence that leaves your team(s) adrift; this is a fundamental betrayal of the trust placed in Leadership. Plan for departure from the first day, without leaving it to the last minute; as there may not be such a “last minute” for the building and activation of such a plan.

Share relationships. Even if one is the primary point of contact with the client or executive on the job; even if one is the virtual fulcrum for the program, plan or operation; the simple and expansive practice of including one or two select members of the team to participate or simply “audit” meetings, sit in on calls, FaceTime or Skype sessions reaps rewards in myriad ways.

What Myriad Ways?:

  • Knowledge of nuance.
  • Exposure and concomitant credibility as competent leaders in and of themselves; to the client, certainly, but as much to empower these team members, themselves.
  • These Includeds become Lieutenants; when things get crazy and one’s Clone is otherwise occupied, the deployment of the Empowered Surrogate can be essential to success.
  • Will engender trust in one’s entire team by the client as well as mutual trust within the team in stepping up and moving forward when any member departs.
  • Not doing this undermines everything. Information unshared is, again, a virtual land mine.

Giving exposure, credibility and respect to one’s teammates or lieutenants exposes the Good Leader as what s/he is, brings fresh perspective into these meetings and conversations and will engender respect and authority for these individuals who may need to stand-in for the Leader at any time.

These very people, in the leader’s absence, will need to be clear on the history of the relationship or project to be able to operate with ease and comfort in your stead and to be conversant in the evolution of the project and relationship…to Deliver.

Be aware of who is on the Team. Especially in an industry wherein freelancers and consultants move from project to project, company to company, country to country year after year; guard against viewing individual members as defined by the job done or task being filled at the moment.

I see this a lot in the part of the world where I am working, now. Management tends to view individuals as the jobs each are filling, with no thought or curiosity as to what resource or potential these men and women might represent. Not only is this dismissive to the body of work, skills and talents likely represented by the individuals on the teams; it is a hugely expensive shortsightedness on the part of Leadership.

Respect for a staffing plan may be honorable, strict adherence to it may be foolhardy.

As projects evolve and the myriad unpredictable or unforeseen obstacles and opportunities arise, knowledge of the above mentioned background, experience and potential on one’s team can make the addressing of same a matter of moments or hours rather than days, weeks and months.

Don’t assume, don’t pigeonhole. (Besides: pigeonholing is fowl.)

Share your knowledge: Mentor. Teach. Share. Ask. Involve.

This does not mean Lecture, Pontificate, Order and Berate. Rather, it means open up and be willing to learn at every juncture, throughout the process of the work.

The time and money saved, the powerful increase in morale, the increased productivity and responsiveness of one’s team and the possibility of spectacular realization of goal, well above and beyond original vision is worth it.

One of my favorite anecdotes from my own history is the time, two decades ago, when my Production Team were wrestling with a dilemma within our imminent show. This was a spectacle with over 12,000 participants in an iconic structure in New York City. Very public; very big; only one shot at success. These were not “closed” meetings, as I believe anyone who wants to know how things are going should be welcome…one never knows.

From the back of the room, during a pensive lull in our conversation, came the voice of one of the the crusty ol’ “union guys,” a driver on the project. “Well…” he says, “..back in 1975 we had the same problem with [name of show and Diva redacted!]. What WE did was…” and he gave us our solution.

One never knows.

Trust your people.

Know your people.


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3 thoughts on “Successful Succession

  1. Kile,

    This is a great post. And it arrived the day before I begin training my successor at Broadway Cares. I shared it with my staff as you so elegantly articulated what I hope to accomplish over these next 6 months. Thanks for sharing the wealth of information you have gathered over your career in production. Your passion for events comes through and you are able to articulate the processes needed to create a successful team in a way that I have seen few ever do.


    • I am and have been fortunate to have found people of your calibre, Michael, with which to build such teams. My experience with you pretty much set the bar for everyone who followed; your commitment to quality, detail, experience and simply Calm While Getting the Job Done still inspires me.

  2. This is all very true. I jokingly (but seriously) tell my direct reports: here are things you should know in case I get hit by the M-104 bus. It is not an immediate sharing of corporate secrets, but a plan. I make my daily meetings open to all: senior, junior, entry-level. Young people wanting to make a name for themselves often come up with the most creative solutions. Companies and leadership also should also come up with a Business Continuation Plan. For instance, if a bomb were to go off in your city, trapping you at home, do you have conference call bridges set up? Server backups?

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