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On To the Next One: The Group Leaders Guide to Succession Planning

A part of leadership that too often goes unexamined is how to know WHEN to step down…and then how to execute with efficiency and grace.  When we read about succession planning it is often in the context of corporate America, but it is just as important in non-professional spheres. Just because you’re deeply invested in your leadership role now doesn’t mean that it’s a role you plan to fill until the day you die!

Know when to fold ’em

For one, you may decide you like being in the group but that you don’t want the extra responsibility of leading. That’s legitimate! Also, this may not be your only passion project. For ‘serial starters’ and trailblazers this is an essential perspective to have from the beginning: that you want to get things established and moving in the right direction, but you don’t want to be committed indefinitely. That’s legitimate too!

Whatever the case, go ahead and make arrangements for the eventuality that you won’t be your groups leader forever. Doing so will mitigate the risk that the group could collapse in your absence (aka the worst-case scenario).

Humility check…..check?

**Brief aside** If you started your group with all of your self-worth tied up in your role as leader, or if your compulsion to remain in control impairs your ability to prioritize group success, you may need a few radical ego shifts that are beyond the scope of this post. After all: it’s not a right, a requirement, or an obligation to be your group’s leader. Leadership is a privilege! Leaving things in good shape for the next leader is a project of graciousness.

How succession planning benefits the group

In well-managed groups, everyone is clear from the start that accountability rotates and responsibilities are shared. In other words, group management processes are well understood by everyone.  Great leaders build this culture into the fabric of the group by using tools that supports decentralized leadership. If you’ve already gone to the effort of establishing a strong feedback culture into the group, likely members will already be in the practice or group optimization and co-creating best practices. Having clarity around group goals and processes greatly reduces both fear and jockeying for position. When it comes time to pass the hat to the next leader, the group will be able to handle it.

How succession planning  benefits you (the leader)

As a leader, you have the opportunity to put processes in place that will endure most personalities.  Once you realize it is not all about you, you are free to dream big. And when the time is right, you become free to move on without the looming specter that the group will collapse without you. Preparing in advance is giving yourself the gift of freedom from future chaos.

Steps to well-played succession planning

1.Check in with yourself:

Take some time for a personal inventory. We really love this list, which includes ‘have you accomplished what you wanted?,’ and ‘could someone else do a better job?” among others. There are two main points here. One is to think critically about why you’re pulling back.  And, two, to think toward what the best next step is in order to keep your group thriving.

2. Lead (and then leave) with good intentions:

The initial conversations about your decision to move on or pull back could be tender. Now that you’ve taken the time to crystallize your reasons for leaving, you can be genuine and diplomatic in voicing your desires for the group. These could include things like wanting someone with boundless energy and fresh ideas in the role, for example. In other words, you get an opportunity to voice your hopes for the group and leave on a high note.

3. What to look for in a replacement:

The best leaders are strong on soft skills. Ideally, whoever the next leader is will have strong communication skills, natural empathy, and a polished approach to diplomacy. Best practices can be taught. Visionary insight and consensus-building prowess…..not so much!

4. Audit your group process regularly:

As an ongoing practice, make sure that most people in the group, or at the very least all of the key players, understand the best practices your group has identified around decision-making and planning. If you’ve built clarity and transparency into the system, it will be easier for folks to get things done during the transition process. Never underestimate the power of a few group rockstars to bring everyone else up to speed during leadership shifts.

5. Take a phased approach:

Ideally, you won’t announce your departure on a Monday and vanish by Tuesday. Once you and the group have decided on a successor, mentor that person for a bit. Show them the ropes and speak with them about what has worked for you. Don’t skip over what has not worked well at all. If there are predictable hiccups that you know they will encounter, help them brainstorm how to navigate the predictable headaches. After this mentoring period is over, you can also make yourself available as backup for a period of time, so that the new leader can come to you for support on an as-needed basis.

6. “….know when to walk away” 

To be a great mentor, you have to relinquish control. This won’t apply to everyone- for some the decision to step down was a blessing, a joy, and an immediate relief from unwanted stress- but for those leaders who did it in spite of their ongoing desire to assert their influence or bolster their legacy, this one is major. At a certain point, you’ll need to hold your tongue and let the new leader do their own thing. After all, they have the mandate of the group and their time has come to forge a new path.

We hope this helps you think about how to handle succession planning with efficiency and grace! Another of the greatest gifts you can give to your group is to implement group management tools that support decentralized leadership. When the whole group is aware group process, and when access to group collateral is democratized so that everyone has the keys to the stuff, the group is in a better position to breeze through leadership changes. Groupizy provides all of that and more in our centralized suite of 9 group management tools. If you’re interested in supercharging your group, click here for more info!

Happy Grouping,

The Team at Groupeasy

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