Identifying and developing the right person to take over the helm of your company is a process that should be started 5-10 years in advance.
Many years ago, I was having lunch with a business friend who was moving into his final stages of his career. I asked him, “So, what are you focused on now?” He said something that I will never forget: “I am looking forward to someone firing me.”
Wow. Getting fired has such unpleasant connotations. Many who get fired are resentful and question their self-worth. But it can also have a positive implication.
If you control the process, then getting fired creates freedom. It is the culmination of your talent, hard work, and willingness to take risks. It also means that for many years you have been looking forward, not backward.
Making this happen means creating a context in your business that allows you to look forward, beyond the day-to-day management of what you’ve created. Firing is a gift that you should strive for.
Following are a few tips and insights of how to frame and be successful in this process.
1] Take Steps. The first order of business is to look in the mirror. This means creating a clear vision of where your company is heading and what you want to see happen going forward. Once you’ve achieved this clarity, it’s time to look at your existing team and ask who has the potential to take your seat in the future. This will be the person to fire you.
2] Start early. Finding, developing, and nurturing someone to fire you can take 5-10 years. If you don’t have that much time, then you need a realistic strategy to compensate.
I am a huge advocate of growing the talent on your team, but your seat is unique and hard to fill. Starting early means you can promote or hire someone into a managerial role and use the time to hone his or her talents.
Firing is a gift worth striving for. making it happen means looking beyond the day-to-day management of the business you created.
You also might be considering multiple candidates, and having more time means you can wait to see which is the right one.
To prepare, try having some open conversations with your best candidates regarding their individual goals and motivations. At least 50% of the businesses I work with need to look outside to find the right person.
Leadership development takes time and energy. I suggest spending 20% or more of your time working with your potential replacement (most spend less than 5%). I know this sounds extreme, but when you think about the ROI in both the short and long term, it is really a strong return on the energy expended. Leadership development can mean one-on-one discussions, leadership workshops, and/or providing initiatives that assist in the employees’ growth. Try also to encourage them to practice public speaking internally and externally. Provide them an opportunity to lead and facilitate meetings. All this energy will help to groom them for the future.
3] Leverage a coach. Hiring an outside coach or mentor can help your future leader, while also giving you a sounding board on his or her progress. A good coach will provide you with techniques and alert you to any blind spots that need to be addressed. Leadership coaching can come from a simple friend of the family or a more formal relationship.
4] Get team buy-in. This success is largely your responsibility. You need to do some behind-the-curtain politics to set the stage for the future. This should be done with empathy but also with strategic thinking in mind. Your future leader needs to gain and keep the respect of others.
5] Lock them in. Upon moving into the final leg, you should try to create a financial program that locks them in place. This not only gives them motivation to get to the finish line but also reduces the risk that they might leave before you get there. I prefer deferred compensation programs or possibly stock options as opposed to simply a promise for cash or a position.
Begin with changing the paradigm that being fired is a bad thing versus a gift—one that will keep on giving if you position and act on it correctly.