17 March 2011

A Departure Plan

Watching recent events in the Middle East got me thinking about, what else, project leadership.

Specifically, the revolution in Egypt reminded me of one of the most important aspects of just about any kind of leadership, project or otherwise: planning for your eventual absence.

People like Castro, Mubarak, Gaddafi and Steve Jobs drive me nuts. Why? Not just because they won't go away, but because they have no succession plan. That's fine if you're immortal, but even Castro will kick the bucket some day (seriously, how is that guy still around? He's going to out live me at this rate.). And please, a half-hearted hand-off to your brother Raul doesn't really qualify as a plan.

Yes, I know it's difficult to find a replacement. Good help is hard to find, blah blah blah. If you've been leading a place for 30 or 40 years, it's hard to imagine anyone else can take your place.  Nobody else knows as much as you do. Nobody else is as well informed as you are. Nobody else is as connected. But here's the thing - at some point, you won't be around. Also, the world won't end when that happens.

This isn't just an issue for dictators. It happens in organizations as well. I've come across more than one senior authority figure who regularly make it clear they zero plans to ever leave... and thus they don't taken any steps to groom a successor. That's irresponsible. It's bad leadership. Also, it's lazy.

As a leader, the best legacy you can leave is a good hand-off to the next guy. If you really want to keep doing the same thing until you drop dead, that's fine... just don't take one of those top-of-the-pyramid jobs, where large numbers of people will be negatively affected by the chaotic impact of your sudden departure.

Sure, it's easy for me to say all this stuff. I never stay in one place for more than a year or two. One of the first things I do when I come into a new job is start thinking about how I'll hand it to my successor. Not because I'm itching to move on, but because I don't want to leave a mess behind... 'cause unlike some people, I know I won't be here forever.

1 comment:

Andrew G. Duncan said...

That's sort of depressing, thought that might just be me as part of the Mac Cult, or maybe that I've always loved Castro.

No joke though, that's depressing.