Thinking about the coronation, there are some key lessons on succession planning that I feel businesses can take from looking at the monarchy, particularly related to the subject of Succession Planning and Talent Development.

It’s been over a week since the pageant and coronation ceremony! Windsor is finally getting back to some kind of normality!

The Royal Succession

One of the foundational principles of monarchy is succession. Having an “heir” to the throne is a fundamental requirement for the long-term health and effectiveness of the crown. For the British monarchy, this is a hereditary right that is passed down through generations.

Whatever your views of this “system” and its applicability in modern life, there can be no denying that it is a cornerstone of the ‘success’ and longevity of the monarchy for hundreds of years.

Dynasties that last beyond the impact of one individual, no matter how impressive that person might be.

Succession In Business

In business, we also need to ensure that succession is in place.

If you have watched the TV drama Succession you can see just how politically charged succession can become – with individuals vying for position and status. This is not an example of how to effectively manage the transition of power in an organisation – but it does make for great TV!

And is not so far from reality in many cases…

One of the fundamental roles of a leader is to build the capability of the organisation they lead – be that as the de facto head of the business, founder and owner or member of the senior leadership team.

It should never be left to just the “talent” function to worry about succession. Every leader has a role to play.

It should be a topic that we regularly and consistently consider and reflect on. Who is next in line?

Clearly, in business, this is not normally a hereditary system. However, every one of us should be working on developing the teams under our care. In particular those with the talent to take on and follow us into our position, or other positions in the senior leadership team.

The Pitfalls of Hereditary Succession

There are of course challenges with the succession approach used by the British monarchy. If you are “not in line” then what part do you play, let alone the challenges around gender that see Princess Anne falling well behind her other siblings and the next generations?

Even these failings can share an important lesson for business, however.

When building our succession we need to ensure that we empower everyone to feel like they are part of the plan. Some may not want to be part of it, yet everyone should feel connected to the succession.

Whilst it is important, succession should not become everything. It is a fundamental priority to ensure succession. Yet it should never come in the way of the core purpose of the business. The needs of one should never come before the impact of everyone.

Succession is every leader’s responsibility

When a business is forced to go outside and recruit externally for senior leadership positions because they DO NOT have any suitable candidates internally, this is a failure of the current leadership.

Please note I say forced. In many businesses, it is healthy to explore externally to bring in top talent. When this is a decision that is taken as a preference and with a strategy behind it then I wholeheartedly support the action.

When this is because we have no one who could step up, then it is a signifier that the current leadership has failed in one of its principal responsibilities.

Build your people.

What about you? If you exited your role today would you have someone “in line” internally to take on your role?

If the answer is no, then you might be a) holding your career back and b) failing your business in one of the key criteria of your role!

Key Lessons on Succession Planning

When thinking about developing successors, it is important to remember 3 things:

  1. They need to be developed to think differently from others who operate at the same level as them. Stepping up in leadership is less about WHAT you do and more about HOW you do it
  2. Exposure to the specific requirements of senior leadership should start early. Consider the Royals again. The fact that even very young members of the royal family are exposed to public scrutiny and royal duties is about exposing them to the requirements and demands expected. We should look to put a programme in place for potential successors so they increase their exposure to activities that are ordinarily beyond the scope of their current role
  3. Ease the transition of authority – as the capability, thinking and influence of the potential successor grows we should actively look to start to transition authority and power in key aspects of YOUR role to them. We must start to let go and cede specific responsibilities to the successor.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about these key lessons on succession planning.  Creating and managing your next-in-line process is essential. Today is as good a day as any to start the process.  If you already have a succession plan to take action to support the development of those “next in line” then hopefully these key lessons help.

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High Performance Leadership Habits Coach. Inspiring more people to love the work they they do. Building Better Workplaces. Developing Better Leaders. Author and leadership thinker focussed on using the power of habits to unlock human and organisational potential.