Bart Breen's Reviews > Succession: Are You Ready?

Succession by Marshall Goldsmith
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May 18, 12

Read in October, 2009

Short, Sweet and Spoken with Authority

Marshall Goldsmith, for those familiar with the Leadership consulting field as an academic or practitioner, is someone who needs very little introduction. He has an impressive list of books as well as a great deal of practical experience and is sought out regularly as a teacher for the elite business schools.

While he understates his qualifications to address things like strategic planning, shareholder value concerns and others that could be mentioned, he is unquestionably well qualified to address the issue of CEO succession in most any organization, large or small. His authorship of this small book in the "Memo to the CEO" series is one that is well considered and knowing these elements I entered into this short book expecting the material to be valuable.

In keeping with past books from this series, it reads like a series of memos given in a personal and off-the-cuff manner designed to be conversational and succinct. One gets the feeling reading it, that this represents the wisdom of a career and multiple experiences boiled down into short points that the author wishes he knew himself in his earlier experiences coaching CEOs through this difficult transition. The wisdom is personal and deals in the soft areas of this field like ego, personal feelings, the willingness and ability to let go and the ability to place the needs of an organization and a successor above one's own need to be the top dog.

Frankly, while some reading it may chafe a little at what feels like obvious wisdom, the reality is that most CEOs are strong, ego driven type A leaders who indeed do need to have these seemingly "obvious" elements explained and reinforced in a simple manner to break through those characteristics that have directly to their success. (Yes that's a pretty broad generalization, but then, the book itself can be said to be operating on this premise and given the high level generalization of the book itself seems to match this, it seems fair.)

Given this assumption, the elements of the book are laid out pretty well.

First, prepare yourself and evaluate yourself to address those "blind spots" that this task will expose. Ask yourself how ready and willing you are to give up the power and the limelight and begin to prepare. Then prepare yourself to move on and begin to actually take the steps internally you will need to resolve before the external steps can effectively taken.

Into this mix then can enter the vital step of choosing your successor (to the degree that task falls to you.) Determine if it will be an internal candidate or candidates or an external one. Based on this decision then plan how you will make the transitions and coach and enable that successor to develop the relationships within the organization they will need to build a platform for their own success.

The next portion is the most valuable in this reviewer's opinion. Goldsmith walks a leader through how to move from the position of power to one of encouragement to enable that successor to begin to fill the gap that is voluntarily and deliberately created. This is the area that is probably the least counter-intuitive and the one in which an executive is most likely to attempt to handle as a CEO dictating how things will happen. Yet, to attempt that in this context is to undermine the organization's next leader by making their transition openly dependent upon the old leader. Success depends upon stepping out from the shadow and the transition must take place informally before it takes place formally.

As things move toward completion the a few final nuances can be addressed.

Of course, even in a memo form, Goldsmith fills in the gaps with keen insights and apt anecdotes from his experience.

This book can be read in one reading and it's best to read through it in this manner I think, but then the value will be to return to the appropriate sections for a little reminder and enforcement along the way.

4 Stars.

Bart Breen
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