The Advancing Leadership Blog

Legacy and Succession Planning – What’s the Connection?


By Jim Reger – TEC Chair

Most business leaders understand the importance of succession planning, but it always seems to be something that can be put off for another time. However, the real reason for postponing is not time-related – it’s an issue of fear. CEOs and other high-level executives often find that their personal identities are closely linked to their business, which is understandable, given the amount of time and energy required to create and/or grow a successful company.

Succession planning is about the sustainability of the organization, so when leaders begin the process, they should approach it from the perspective of building a leadership legacy. If a leader doesn’t leave the organization sustainable and positioned for the next stage of growth, what kind of legacy are they leaving?

A lasting legacy is built on a solid foundation of principles and purpose, so succession planning becomes a process of self-reflection for the leader, as they take full accountability for the transition and preservation of leadership within the organization. Leaders who do this (instead of abdicating the responsibility for succession to a board or HR) gain the power to create their own legacy. They pass on their wisdom like a baton and the organization benefits from a smooth transition that is free of drama, lost productivity and distractions.

Thinking about one’s legacy should be uplifting and energizing. It requires that we move beyond short-term, financially focused definitions of success as we search for the deeper meaning of our lives, asking ourselves:

  • How do I want to be remembered?
  • What am I leaving behind for others to inherit?
  • Who am I – beyond my positions, my achievements and my possessions?
  • What kind of contribution am I making to the world – beyond self-interest?

Being a legacy leader brings with it a responsibility to do something of significance that stakeholders in an organization can subscribe to and own for themselves. When a leader focuses on legacy creation as the foundation for succession planning, they fuel individual and organizational sustainability and growth – and – they begin to live lives of greater meaning and purpose.

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