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The Succession Dilemma

The Succession Dilemma
Thoughts on Authentic Leadership
By John P. Schreitmueller


In our work with organizations and family businesses, one of the most important topics we address is that of succession. Companies spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars on succession, because the success of most enterprises hinges on having the right leadership in place.

Succession is an especially volatile topic because it is almost always an emotionally charged process. Egos, family history, corporate cultures, expectations, boards, investors, clients, complex internal relationships, compensation and balance sheets are all right there on the table. Considering these and many other factors, organizations often seek professional guidance as they navigate the waters of succession.

Over the years we have found the key to successful succession processes does not revolve around super complex business models dreamed up in ivory towers or through solely agonizing selection systems. The key revolves around authentic deployment. We define authentic deployment as consonance between a leader’s preferences for career, quality of life and end game strategies, and the actual work/life equation in which the leader is involved.

More leaders fail at significant roles because they are inauthentically deployed than any other reason. Failure is rarely an issue of competence; most of the executives and professionals with whom we work are brilliant, and have comprehensive knowledge of their respective industries. Failure is rarely an issue of neglect. Failure is often an issue of poor relationship management skills. However, we also find that when a leader is authentically deployed, he or she is less likely to allow shoddy relationship management to ever enter into the picture.

So, the challenge for organizations approaching succession, whether the company is very large or very small, is to screen carefully and consistently for authenticity. This can be particularly difficult for family enterprises, when expectations for offspring to enter the business are high but there are disconnects at multiple levels.

In screening for authentic alignment, consider the following:
  • Is the candidate for succession deeply attached to the prospect of completing his or her career in the industry in which the enterprise is involved? What type(s) of assessment have been made with the candidate to identify his or her authentic career preferences?
  • What are the candidate’s preferences for quality of life issues such as geographic location, education for his or her children, needs for proximity to aging parents or relatives and proximity to high quality health care systems?
  • If a particular candidate for succession is already an organizational team member and is not selected for the senior role for which the selection process is being conducted, what role would the candidate fulfill going forward, if any, inside the organization?
  • Will the successful candidate have access to professional on-boarding coaching or counseling following selection?

We have found candidates who are authentically deployed are:
  • More likely to integrate into organizational cultures in a timely manner when selected from outside the organization
  • More likely to forge key relationships sooner after selection
  • More likely to build on relationships already in place when the candidate is internally selected
  • More likely to weather setbacks, challenges and blockages
  • More resilient in addressing multiple organizational, market, financial and emotional issues
  • More successful in dealing with boards, investors, clients and the media
  • More successful in meeting key deliverables, deadlines and in identifying concepts and initiatives

Rarely do inauthentically deployed candidates demonstrate, over time, greater success or positive impacts across the organization than their authentically deployed counterparts.

These considerations are only a part of what is often, by necessity, an intricate process. But they are crucial. Ignoring them jinxes the entire show. In selecting senior leaders for your organization, stack the deck in favor of the enterprise. Screen for authenticity every time.


John P. Schreitmueller, PCC, ECP-BC, is the CEO of Resolute Consulting Group LLC. His Atlanta-based practice specializes in coaching, counseling and consulting oriented towards authentic leadership.

Copyright 2014 by Resolute Consulting Group LLC
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