Why You Should Not Choose Your Own Successor

By September 6, 2019Business, Hiring

Sometimes, when a leader leaves their current position, they will have someone in mind to replace them. This is especially true at small companies or when a senior leader steps down after a long tenure. 

It might seem natural, and even advantageous, to let the exiting officer choose their own successor. After all, who knows the position better than the one who holds it? And who knows the pool of potential candidates—current employees—better than their manager? 

Unfortunately, this line of thinking is, at best, misguided. 

After working with a group of individuals over time, it is common to develop relationships and alliances reflecting both breadth and depth. 

Having characteristics such as hard work and likability, or producing manager-pleasing results, create biases on the part of any leader. However, please note: these are not the same traits that make an employee a good leader at the next level. 

In addition, the more similar that employees are to their leader, the more that leader may favor them. This bias can also happen in reverse. Those unlike us—people who have different ways of working, thinking, or getting results—can create unconscious negative prejudice. 

These biases, along with preexisting relationships, put the leader in a tenuous position when selecting their own successor. After all, the person who gets along best with a certain leader is not necessarily the best person to assume that position themselves!

Therefore, the incumbent should not have the last word when selecting the next person to occupy their position. Typically, the manager’s manager should be the primary person, in consultation with other key stakeholders, to make the succession decision.

Ultimately, if a leader has been focused on developing their team over the long haul, then there will be a pool of internal talent from which to choose a worthy successor. 

This focus on employee development is also good for the business. What company ever suffered from having too much talent?

THE TAKEAWAY: Resist the temptation, due to sentimental or practical reasons, for a leader to handpick their own successor. It is best to leave such decisions to an unbiased hiring manager. 

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