On a limited basis, The Rawls Group provides Successor Development Forums (SDF) for prospective leaders who feel they need coaching and education on the unique challenges of successor development. An SDF is not intended to be a “lucky sperm club;” it is intended to be a “work group” for successor candidates who are seeking coaching that they cannot get at home.

Recently, I was facilitating a Successor Development Forum in our office for a dozen or so next generation family business successors, and kicked off the meeting with discussion of the Five Successor Criteria; Confidence, Character, Competency, Commitment and Community mindedness. Since Dr. Merlot had nothing better to do, and realizing it was too early to go home and have a glass of vino, he decided to observe as he was facilitating the next morning.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you have in front of you your Successor Criteria 360 Assessment by your supervisors, colleagues and subordinates which provides you the average self-perception gap in each of the 5 Successor Criteria. As we would suspect the largest disparity with your self assessment is Competency, followed by Character, Community and Confidence. To your credit your best score is with Commitment. So let’s discuss your thoughts and questions.”

“Mr. Rawls,” offered Jack, “I have to admit that I am surprised that my average 360 grade is higher than I rated myself. What does that mean?”

“Well Jack,” I responded, “that means you have earned Leadership Equity beyond your understanding. How old are you; 35 or so? I would presume that you have spent considerable time working your way through the ranks and even may have worked elsewhere before entering your family’s business?”

“Yes, on both counts,” Jack answered. “I’ve been in our family’s dealership for three years, but spent five years prior in banking after I was in the Army for three years.”

“Well Jack, congratulations!” I exclaimed with a grin. “Evidently you learned a few important leadership fundamentals prior to joining your family’s business.” Looking around the room I continued to solicit reactions to each person’s assessment.

“I am not surprised by my assessment!” proclaimed Windy. “My Dad put me in as a Service Manager way above my head. He told me to fake it until I made it and evidently my fake wasn’t very good. I am happy the 360 did not show a bigger gap, which I suppose is because I did not have a high opinion of myself. How can I do my job with such low perception of my Competency?”

“Good question Windy,” I responded affirmatively. “When you don’t have the C you need, play the Cs you have. When there is a lack of Competency, which is common with developing successors, amp up the Character, Commitment and Community Mindedness. From a character perspective, don’t project that you have knowledge or experience that you don’t. Be humble; profess to those around you that you are trying to learn the job and need their help. Be committed to your team, the job and learning; be the first one to arrive and the last to leave. Don’t let anyone think that you are taking any shortcuts. Think and talk in terms of Community; we, us, our. Forget the “I” and “me” words and promote the reality of teamwork; everybody gains through collaboration. Windy you are another classic affirmation that there is no such thing as a perfect Successor Criteria score. However, all of you can serve a critical role in succession. All you need to do is understand you are going to need help and learn how to ask for it.”

“James what are your thoughts?”

At 26 James was the youngest at the table. He had been working his phone when I asked his opinion, so he was a bit befuddled. After a brief stutter he gathered himself and responded, “I am not sure I agree with my assessment.” Looking around the table with a fabricated smile as though he was campaigning, he continued, “I was the President of my fraternity and my graduating class. I also earned an MBA with an emphasis in management. I am an experienced leader and manager. I know the internet and social media. I think these assessment gaps simply indicate that my employees are jealous of me.”

“Interesting perspective,” I responded. “What do the rest of you ladies and gentlemen think?”

“What does it matter what they think,” injected James. “These guys do not walk in my shoes. They do not have to deal with the Neanderthals I work with everyday.”

“Bet your smallest gap was Confidence,” injected Dr. Merlot.

Puffing up his chest and James responded with a crooked smile “You’re right, there is no disagreement that I know what I am doing. But what does that mean and who are you?”

“Oh!” remembering that I had not introduced Doc when he came into the room late; “Pardon me, this is Dr. Merlot, my partner in facilitating your Forum. He’s a psychologist of sorts and noted worldwide for his keen grasp of the obvious.”

Everyone thought my intro was funny except James who continued with his challenge. “What do you mean, Dr. Merlot, that you bet my most consistent 360 score was confidence?”

“Extraordinary confidence would just seem consistent with your chimpish attitude,” Doc responded.

“Chimpish attitude? Is that a real word?” James asked with a chuckle again scanning the room in search for affirmation. Deciding that he was going to take on Doc he asked, “What does chimpish mean?”

Doc stood up and addressed the table. “Loyd has been drawing your attention to Successor Criteria. He has not contended that you have to be the perfect successor, but he has presented that you are being evaluated by parents and their senior managers in 5 Successor Criteria that were the focus of your 360 assessment.”

Taking a breath Doc cracked a smile and continued, “What I would add to what Loyd has express is not factual, but experiential. I contend that you are all trying to work your way, some more successful than others, through the three stages of successor development. Recognition of these natural stages will lead you to better success in the 5 Successor Criteria.”

“Doc, you still have not explained what ‘chimpish’ means,” injected James again searching without success for affirmation from those around the table.

The attention returned to Doc. Broadcasting a smile reflecting the hammer James had just handed him, he continued endeavoring to restrain his enthusiasm. “The three stages of successor development are Chimp, Chump and Champ; Docs 3Cs if you may?” directing a fabricated smile straight at James.

At that point James well understood the derivation of ‘chimpish’ and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms, apparently for damage control.

“Chimp is the first stage of successor development,” Doc continued, “which unfortunately, history has recorded many successor candidates live as chimps forever. In the chimp stage you childishly create lots of noise and chaos through fabricated confidence and demeaning arrogance. You avoid responsibility and accountability by jumping around from job to job. You act entitled to privilege and respect presuming with no valid reason other than the gene lottery, that you are special. In more succinct words, this is the stage of the unconscious incompetent.”

James, with a blank stare sat to edge of his seat, put both hands on the table, stood up and proclaimed, “I’m out of here!” and started walking around the table to the door. Doc had his arms out wide in shock at the apparent surrender, when James stopped, pointed directly at him and shouted, “Got ya!”

I was slower on the uptake than Doc. By the time I figured out what had happened, Doc had dropped his arms, slumped his shoulders and was just gazing at the carpet with a red face as James returned to his seat proclaiming, “The chimp got ya! The chimp got ya!” The others were catching on and laughing as well.

Doc held up his hands as to contain the laughter and on the third attempt expressed with as much humility as I have ever seen, “Yes you got me and you got me good.” After the laughter subsided again Doc continued, “Although you are no longer a Chimp, through your very impressive acknowledgement of where you have been, you have now move to the next second stage of successor development, Chump. As a Chump you humbly recognize that regardless of your confidence, education and erstwhile experience, you don’t understand the leadership and management dynamics of your family’s business. You want to be a motivator and team builder, but recognize that most of those around you also understand that you don’t understand management or leadership. They are working around you and in some instances taking advantage of your ignorance and naiveté. If they are not playing you, they are ignoring you. Your department is functional because you are not creating chaos and your managers are performing in spite of your noisy distraction. In more succinct terms you have become a conscious incompetent.” Then taking a moment to offer affirmation to a young man needing attention, “So James, congratulations; I am confident in my proclamation that you are no longer a chimp, you are a solid chump.”

Again the room roared with laughter. Doc, unsure of himself after being embarrassed and wanting to gracefully get off the podium, raised his hands to control the noise and continued. “Ideally ladies and gentlemen, we will someday celebrate as each of you grow to the third stage of successor development; Champ. As a Champ you understand what you know, what you don’t know, your utter dependence upon team members, and that your only hope of success is to convey to initially disillusioned or cynical employees that you really care about their welfare. You are the champion of their productivity, their advancement, their success. The strength, the positioning as the champ comes for the understanding and acceptance of your weakness because as the chimp and chump demonstrate, no one is really wanting to work for someone who doesn’t need them and only wants to use them. In more succinct terms you will have become a conscious competent.”

The room was now silent as the group had picked up the jest of Doc’s contention that their growth would be based upon an understanding of what they cannot do versus demonstrating what they can do. “In conclusion,” Dr Merlot expressed, “as I turn this back to Loyd, let me bring to your attention that there is only one letter difference between chimp, chump and champ. I challenge you to fight the instincts of privilege which bring forth the hazards of unconsciousness and conversely I challenge you to be conscious of your circumstances and take advantage of the opportunity to quickly grow.”


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