Today, I spoke with Marshall Goldsmith, whose been featured on this blog before and in the current issue of Personal Branding Magazine.  Marshall is a huge advocate for personal branding, as he’s spent his career building the brands of Fortune 500 CEO’s.  His latest book is called Succession: Are you Ready and in this interview, he gives us a advice for figuring out who should take your place when you leave.

How should a CEO setup his or her succession plan?  What leadership characteristics should they look for?

The leadership characteristics of the new CEO should fit the projected needs of the organization in the future – not the needs of the past.  Current CEOs should try to avoid the trap of selecting candidates who remind them of themselves!

If you were to select someone to succeed you (if you were a CEO), who would it be and why?

I am not a CEO, so it is hard to say.  If I were to select someone to replace me as an executive coach, teacher and writer, I would select someone who loved the work, was very future focused, had a mind of his/her own and was willing to learn and change.

What happens when you select the wrong person to replace you before you leave your organization?  What are the top 3 disasters that can happen?

  1. When you stick with a bad choice, just because you selected the person.  Better to ‘swallow your pride’ and move to another candidate.
  2. When the candidate is great at self-promotion – but is really not that interested in the long-term success of the company.  I have seen this happen too much.
  3. When the world changes and the right candidate suddenly becomes the wrong candidate – possibly through no fault of his/her own.

Can you give one example of a succession plan that has been successful in the past couple of decades?

I will give you two:

  • Frances Hesselbein leaving the Girl Scouts of the USA.  She made the announcement long in advance, left while people still wanted her to stay and ‘got out of the way’ gracefully.
  • Harvey Golub leaving American Express.  He actually left before he was supposed to – to ensure that the right person would not leave and would take the job.

What types of people become CEO’s?  Is it usually the CFO?  CMO?

This depends upon the company and industry. In most cases the CEO comes from the core business of the company.  Technical people lead high-tech companies, marketing people lead marketing companies and financial people lead finance companies.  However, this is not always the case.  There are many positive examples where great CEOs have come from outside the core discipline of the company.

Marshall Goldsmith
is a world authority in helping successful leaders get even better – by achieving positive, lasting change in behavior: for themselves, their people and their teams.  His latest book is called Succession: Are You Ready? and his previous book was called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is a New York Times best seller, Wall Street Journal #1 business book and winner of the Harold Longman award for Best Business Book of the Year.  It has been translated into 23 languages and is a listed best seller in six different countries.  The American Management Association named Dr. Goldsmith as one of 50 great thinkers and leaders who have influenced the field of management over the past 80 years.   He teaches executive education at Dartmouth’s Tuck School and frequently speaks at leading business schools.