Setting a Date

Chris Eckrich

In reflecting further about this month’s Family Business Advisor article entitled, “Must the Prince Kill the King?” by Albert Jan Thomassen, I am struck by how easy it sounds to have the senior leader “set a date” for the final transition of leadership to the upcoming leader, and how very difficult it is for so many.  Visions of total disconnection from the business certainly will produce anxiety for many senior leaders, and retrenchment is not uncommon.

A leadership transition is spread out over time (sometimes decades), as upcoming leaders cut their teeth and assume greater responsibility.  Often a time period occurs when both upcoming and current leaders are capable of doing a great job.  A discussion to set a date at that time is likely to cause frustration to both sides.

We see healthy senior/junior generation leaders build clear role descriptions, and then lay out a timeline for when a particular role is passed from one leader to the next.  This allows both to see that the transition will take place over time, and may reduce the anxiety that both would otherwise feel about the pace of progress when it is left undefined.  It also allows the junior leader to plan for the assumption of greater responsibility and authority, acquiring the experience needed to succeed in each newly acquired role.  This clarity also allows both senior and junior leader to see the differences between the senior leader’s management roles, and ownership roles.  [Note that typically management responsibilities and authorities are transitioned before ownership responsibilities and authorities.]

Setting a series of dates for transitioning roles will often create more progress than worrying about the final date of all authority transfer.  In fact, if Thomassen’s recommendations are headed and the two leaders support and respect each other, the working relationship between the two leaders may be such that the final date becomes more of a celebration than a power shift.  The power would have already been transferred by then.

Read the September issue of The Family Business Advisor.  Click Here.

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