Beware of the following three classic mistakes leaders make when considering potential successors. All three can cloud our objectivity and diminish our ability to evaluate candidates.
1. Why Doesn't He Or She Act Like Me? As a rule, successful human beings tend to "over-weight" their own strengths and "under-weight" their weaknesses when evaluating others. The more successful we become, the more we can fall into the "superstition trap," which, simply stated, is, "I behave this way. I am a successful leader. Therefore, I must be a successful leader because I behave this way."
All successful leaders are successful because of many positive qualities and in spite of some behavior that needs improvement.
As a leader, take a hard look at your own strengths and challenges. Recognize that you will have a natural tendency to forgive even large errors that resemble your weaknesses and to punish even small flaws that occur in your area of strength.
After making a list of your strengths and challenges, list the strengths and challenges of your potential successor. As hard as it may be, try to think like an objective outsider. Challenge yourself to recognize that the behavior that you feel is most important for the company may really be the behavior that is most important for you.
2. What Doesn't He Or She Think Like Me? It is hard for successful leaders not to believe that their strategic thinking is the right strategic thinking. As you proceed in the succession process, you are going to have to let go. It can be very hard to watch your successor make decisions that are different from yours. It is especially tough since, as long as you are still the leader, you have the power to reverse the decisions.
Your successor—not you—will manage your organization in the future. As hard as it may be, you have to let him or her begin to make a bigger and bigger difference in developing strategy.
As long as the organization will be headed in a positive general direction—and achieving results—try to recognize that your successor's different path may actually turn out to be a better path.
3. Why Doesn't He Or She Respect and Appreciate My Friends? We all tend to overvalue input from people that we personally like and respect and undervalue the opinions of people whom we don't love as much. Face it: your successor's personal preferences are probably different than yours. As such, he or she will likely choose other trusted advisors.
Invariably when transition occurs, some of your friends may lose status or power and may end up leaving the company. This can be tough—both for them and for you.
The Bottom Line: Respect your successor enough to let him be himself, follow his own path, and choose his own key advisers.
By Marshall Goldsmith