Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

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Succession Planning And Transitioning: Styles

In his book, The Hero's Farewell, former Dean of the Yale School of Management, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, classifies top executives into four categories of styles and describes their effect on their firms as they exit or relinquish leadership. The four styles are:

* Monarchs: They stay on the job until they are forced out or die.

* Generals: They are reluctant to leave and look for ways to return or continue to have an active role.

* Ambassadors: While they leave gracefully, they make sure to maintain active, though low-key, but important relationships with the firm.

* Governors: They go on with other aspects of their lives and leave willingly.

Only the Governor style executives can be counted on not to interfere or try to influence their successors' policies and tenure. The Monarch types can't tolerate competition for their roles, so they are likely to stifle internal talent and leadership development. General and Ambassador types, unwilling to let go entirely of their involvement and ability to influence, may intentionally or not undermine rather than support successors, especially if the firm needs a new vision or sense of direction.

How can firms deal with each of these styles of exiting leader, whether at the top or in the role of business unit or practice head? Here are my suggestions.

* Set limits for Monarchs. Develop term of office policies for CEOS, chairs, managing partners or practice group heads, subject to renewal for a limited time frame. Also require appointment or election of rotating deputies to assure development of future leaders less likely to be tied to the Monarch.

* Enforce knowledge transfer and client introductions to the next generation in the firm.

* Start leadership training as soon as people reach partner or managing director level (or similar status). Make sure the group which is selected for more advanced training is large enough and diverse enough in styles to provide options and the best choices of leaders to meet varying situations. Avoid selecting leaders all in the same mold.

* If Generals and Ambassadors suffer loss of professional identity when they transition out, give them a significant but non-interfering role for a limited time.

* Don't offer them offices to use on-site if they are exiting the firm ("retiring").

* Ambassador types who truly act from a sense of personal commitment to continue to contribute in non-interfering ways for the good of the firm can be extremely valuable in recruiting, business development and mentoring. Make them feel valued and appreciated.

Sonnenfeld suggests that companies that have demonstrated success at developing senior executives spend much time and attention developing a specialized candidate pool with training, coaching, strategic initiatives and on-the-job experiences. Beyond their actual accomplishments, this potential senior level talent can be recognized by strong interest in learning, an unrelenting drive for self-improvement, a healthy appreciation of a motivated workforce and a relatively long-term view. These characteristics and the candidates' approach to professional development lay a solid foundation for leader transitioning which can be matched with the best leadership and behavioral styles for the situation.

As always, I encourage your comments


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2006. All rights reserved