At some point in time, the ownership and leadership batons are going to be passed to the next generation.  When that happens, there’s going to be some level of trauma for everyone involved, including the new owner/leader.  When the company becomes “yours”, it comes with a team of leaders and advisors that you may or may not like and whom you may or may not trust.  If you are the successor, how do you make the best of this situation?

One of the ironies in succession planning is that you may have known some or most of these employees, advisors, and vendors for many years, perhaps your entire life.  Yet, you don’t really know each other… at least not as business colleagues and associates.  And for a variety of reasons, your previous experiences may have left some bitter memories and negatively affected, or even scarred, your impressions of those you are left to deal with.

So what do you do to make this work to your advantage?  Getting control of the company is easy compared to getting cooperation from the team of trusted advisors, vendors, and employees who now stand more or less ready to help you achieve success.  Here are some of the basics that can make that process a little easier.

  1. Relax and be yourself.  For a period of time, you may struggle with the “imposter syndrome” and wonder how things ever got this far.  Regardless of background, preparation, and education you are probably not going to be 100% ready when the opportunity to head the company or the family actually occurs. 

  2. Ask lots of questions and even more importantly, listen to the answers.  You will discover how you can connect with them, what motivates them (it isn’t you!), and what their priorities and concerns are.   They want you to be successful, even if it’s only because it’s in their best interests that you do well.

  3. Manage relationships consistently.  Most people value consistency and predictability, especially in someone who has control over their professional advancement.  If you can set aside personal differences or slights that may have occurred years ago, you will keep a high level of productive energy moving throughout the organization.  If you do not, you set the stage for a shipwreck of Titanic proportions. 

  4. Expect skepticism for some period of time.  Your trusted internal and external advisors will be measuring you to see what kinds of choices and decisions you make.  On occasion you may hear, “Well, (insert predecessor’s name) would never have done that.”  There may be a temptation to respond with a verbal attack.  Resist it.  If the offending party had the interpersonal skills of someone like a Dale Carnegie, he or she would have handled that better.  Defuse the situation and yourself with a response along the lines of “Really?  Did something like this happen before that would cause you to say that?”  and then listen to the response.  It will either confirm your decision, or it will confirm that a more effective approach is available.

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