Leadership and Succession – Know Thyself


This past week a business I have some affiliations with announced a change of ownership. A new President/Owner is taking the reins and leading the organization into the future. It was not an overnight knee jerk decision by the previous owner; in fact it had been months in the making.

It was quietly done for a complete leadership change.  With the exception of the executive board, the announcement came as a surprise to the rest of the organization.  A major change like this could have a lot of implications and concerns, but because of proper planning and careful execution a success story unfolded. Here’s why.

A Vision….Could this be you or someone you know?

The owner of the business successfully started the business from scratch many years ago because he saw a need for something that wasn’t currently being offered. He had a vision, a plan, and strategy to execute that yielded success. In fact it exceeded expectations and was so successful that he was no longer running a company at a size he was comfortable running…and with that new reality if he didn’t make a change he would be limiting the future growth and opportunities.

Know Thyself…“When you know yourself, you are comfortable with your strengths and not crippled by your shortcomings…it enables you to keep growing”   –  Ram Charan, co-author of Execution.

This is where many businesses can stumble. The business is no longer the business they started. Maybe the product mix changed, maybe the client base has changed, maybe the internet has changed the way their customers are doing business, or any other number of both internal and external factors. But the bottom line is the business you own today is likely a lot different than the one you started.

What can you do?

The best thing you can do as the owner is see that you are constantly developing a team of leaders in your business. Yes, even leaders to one day succeed you! When you “Know Thyself” it is much easier to determine the areas of your business you should specifically be seeking reinforcement in to strengthen your areas of weakness.  For example, if your strength is strategic planning, surrounding yourself with a group of strategists probably isn’t going to do as much for long term growth as having someone who has great people skills and is well connected in your industry. It’s often the case that we surround ourselves with others like us. Don’t fall into that trap.

When Leadership is about tough decisions…

In our example above, the success of the business was evident by the incredible team and the results they generate every day. The owner  recognized the growth potential on the horizon and he certainly possesses the skills to take the business there.  It just wasn’t his dream.  He had other areas of his life that were more important to him – at least for the foreseeable future.

The business was ready for growth and change. His team was ready for it. But in knowing thyself, he knew the best person to lead the charge was someone else.  As it turns out, there was a leader already in the organization who was excited and prepared to execute the next growth phase (and willing and able to make a buy offer for the company).

The success and legacy of a leader is often defined by their ability to make difficult choices and implement changes in the heat of battle.  It’s even more evident when the right call is for their own role to diminish as part of the transition for the greater good.

This business owner recognized the situation and made that choice. Because of the great work he did early on – his ongoing pursuit of excellence and maintaining stringent company standards, he had created an opportunity and a solution.  When the time came for this succession there was someone available in the organization who was ideally suited to take over. It’s likely the business will not skip a beat and it’s primed for growth. To me that is leadership development at is finest.

Could this be your business?

How do you want your succession and business legacy defined? Are things you’re doing (or not doing) holding back your business or your employees because your business has changed underneath you? Do you “Know Thyself”? Does your management team compliment your weaknesses or strengths? The answers aren’t always easy, but they are important.

As always, your thoughts and opinions are welcome in the comments below.

Chris Steinlage, Kansas City Business Coach