Selecting a successor is one of the most important decisions you may have to make for your business. But how do you identify the best person to lead your company and prepare him or her for the top role?
• Identify leadership qualities. The first step is to define what your organization’s ideal leader looks like. What qualities should your CEO possess? The answer varies depending on the needs and direction of your particular business or industry.
For example, for a distribution business, the ideal candidate may be an aggressive, sales-driven leader who knows how to stay ahead of the competition and is continually on the look-out for new distribution channels, assets or products to acquire.
A technology company might prefer a Steve Jobs-type innovator with extensive technical knowledge and a unique vision.
In a professional organization with a leadership board, you will most likely need to find a collaborative leader who will facilitate consensus-driven decisions.
For a closely-held family business, choosing a chief executive is not just about selecting a leader, it is also an ownership decision. Does the family possess the heir capable of leading the company or does the entity have to look outside the family to meet its needs? Do the family heirs possess the right personality, business prowess, career interest and personal aspiration to lead your company?
No matter what type of business you have, make sure to choose a CEO who is aligned with your company’s mission and values, who will preserve and enhance your company culture, and who is committed long-term. You don’t want to have to go through the selection process again one year later because the person you chose was not in it for the long haul.
• Start training early. Once you identify strong candidates for the top position at your organization, it’s imperative to begin grooming them for the role. Commence the training process as early as possible so you can observe and assess how each candidate will handle responsibilities and make key decisions.
Provide opportunities for the candidates to learn and prove themselves by leading big projects. Are these forward-thinking people who have a solid vision and the ability and open-mindedness to lead change within your organization? In addition to business sense, it takes a certain degree of emotional intelligence to implement goals and successfully carry an organization into the future.
As the candidates work more closely with other company leaders, they will begin to develop a mutual trust. It’s important that they start developing good working relationships before the new CEO is selected and officially takes the helm. A measured, gradual transition will be smoother for everyone involved.
• The bottom line. There is no CEO profile that fits every organization. The strengths necessary to lead any business are dependent upon the short- and long-term needs of the organization. Identifying and grooming future leaders early is essential for your company to be prepared for unplanned succession and to ensure a smooth transition for planned succession.