insight magazine

Three Nontraditional Ways to Groom Your Successor

For small firms and businesses, a little originality goes a long way. By Judy Giannetto | Digital Exclusive - 2017


We all know about the staples of grooming a successor: Mentoring, sponsoring, job-shadowing, etc. And we all know about the skills they must have: Technical, technological and strategic. But at their core, great leaders also need to be about the people and for the people. That means learning those hard-to-grasp, intangible skills, such as influencing, motivating and inspiring loyalty. And, perhaps just as difficult, recognizing individual talents and knowing how to make them all fit together to achieve a common goal.

For that reason, approaching succession with a little originality might go a long way—not only for your would-be leader, but for your organization as well.

Here are three roles your potential successor can play to help you groom them into leader material.

1. Team Captain

If your organization is part of a softball, volleyball or other league, encourage your would-be successor to captain that team—which means recruiting players, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses, maximizing those strengths, motivating each team member to win … and maintaining that motivation when they lose. It’s about communication, managing expectations and inspiring a group of individuals to care about and work towards a common goal. It’s also about fairness, sportsmanship and accepting failures as opportunities for growth.

On a strategic level, winning is about devising a game plan, recognizing and leveraging the competition’s weaknesses, and recognizing and acting on opportunities for a win—a lot like beating the competition in the marketplace, wouldn’t you say?

2. Office Party Planner

Putting your potential successor in charge of your annual office party planning committee encourages them to identify individuals who will work well together and exposes them to the ins and outs of coordinating a team of diverse individuals.  

Equally as important, this responsibility also means inspiring staff to share creative suggestions, encouraging active brainstorming, managing expectations, and being a skilled and equitable diplomat when it comes to selecting which suggestions to follow through on.

Ultimately, something as seemingly innocuous as helping to plan a party means finding the perfect solution (or perhaps compromise is a better word) that will make as many people as happy and engaged as possible—a great skill to have when you’re leading an organization. What’s more, there’s the whole question of managing a party budget, which means maximizing and managing funds responsibly.

An additional thought: If you make staff recognition a component of your annual do, then your future leader needs to take an interest in, and celebrate, the efforts and accomplishments of others, even if they’re not getting any of the glory. That’s how the seeds of humility are sown.

Your event also might cover personal achievements and newsworthy tidbits from outside the office—Pete’s engagement, for example, or Sandra’s black belt in karate—encouraging your future leader to get to know the entire team on a more personal and invested level.

3. ‘People Management Leader’

Following KPMG’s example, a People Management Leader—or PML—is a person who plays a strong role in providing career development, work-life balance, and networking advice and guidance, among other things, to fellow employees. On a more informal level, this type of role might be particularly appropriate in your firm or small business for new hire and intern orientation.

While your HR department will take care of a lot of orientation procedures, having a potential future leader work in tandem with them might be a good idea. For instance, they might introduce the new hire or intern to staff on a more friendly, informal basis; or organize a welcoming lunch or happy hour; or help them understand the subtleties of the company culture; or provide them with a trusted person they can go to for informal guidance and answers to their questions. The professional and the personal is a fine line to walk, however, and it’s a line every successful leader must recognize.

Obviously, the people management and mentoring skills gained are many. And from another standpoint, working with other departments—in this case HR—will give future leaders cross-functional experience and allow them to practice their diplomacy and judgment skills—they’ll need to function in a PML capacity without overstepping HR boundaries.

Ultimately, what each of these roles provides is a sense of empowerment—to guide, decide and lead. And since they function on a more informal, internal level, they provide that empowerment with little risk to you and your business.

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