Change is in the air. Is it the smell of spring coming early? Nope, it’s change, and it’s in the form of succession.

Leaders come and leaders go, whether we plan for it well or not. How do you as the current leader gauge the readiness of your potential successor?

Obviously, internal succession is a little easier. We have opportunities to observe up-and-comers on the job, so we should know when they’re ready for the next step. But there are pitfalls to watch out for with internal succession:

  • Don’t assume that a person who excels at her current role will automatically succeed at the next level. Moving up is like going from playing high school basketball to playing college football. New skills will be required.
  • When evaluating the potential leader, think about the runway. What load (baggage) is the person carrying now? What engines (e.g., brains, judgment, strength) do they possess? What time do you have? Will he be able to take off when you need him?
  • Doing is the best teacher. It’s also the best evaluator. Give your potential new leader responsibility at that higher level and see how she performs.
  • Give feedback to the prospective leader that is projective (thinks ahead to the next role) and evaluative/instructive (how far from the target and how to improve).
  • Commit to coaching, or find someone to do it. Ideally you’ll find a person who has incredible potential, but there will be a need to smooth out the rough edges and ensure transition success. For more on how you as the current leader can ensure that succession goes smoothly, check out Harvard Business Publishing’s blog post on the topic:


Remember, succession is an intentional process that won’t be successful if you just let it happen naturally. Your legacy is not based on how you left the company on your last day. Your legacy will be determined by how the organization fared in the decade after you left.

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!