10 Signs Your CEO Sucks At Succession


“Do not go gently into that good night; rage, rage against succession.”

Some CEOs enjoy being “king of their world” too much and they’re not going away anytime soon.

Here are 10 signs that a CEO is not going to buy into succession:

  1. Poor Say/Do ratio: What they say about succession compared to what they do shows they’re not even close to taking action.
  2. “Yes, but” every suggestion: They consistently point out why each succession plan won’t work, instead of looking for ways to make them work. 
  3. Don’t initiate discussions about succession: Those who resist succession rarely initiate a discussion about stepping down, much less provide action steps with a time line.
  4. People are afraid to bring up succession to them: These CEOs are often domineering by nature, which intimidates employees.  Why in the world would people risk annoying them?
  5. Work is their life: They don’t have any hobbies or anything that produces the same adrenaline rush as the power they wield at work.  One CEO said, “When you go from being somebody to being anybody, it’s the same as being nobody.” 
  6. Work is their family: They are usually not capable of giving their undivided attention to their children or spouse.  Work is their priority.
  7. Won’t listen at work: They won’t listen to anyone who brings up succession.  They throw the focus back onto the bottom line and challenge people with the goal of changing topics.
  8. Overcompensated: They are frequently overcompensated for the value they bring to the company.  These CEOs often have a fear of losing this perks and their prestige if the company is turned over to others.
  9. Increasingly more irritable: The more they realise they don’t truly deserve what they’re paid, the more irritable they become.
  10. They have fearful aggression: The more fearful CEOs are that their real value will be exposed, the more aggressive they become in order to protect themselves.

Such a person, especially if they are a domineering figure, can put their company at risk in a couple of ways. 

First, other promising employees will be tempted to go elsewhere.  If that happens, the company will be left with the less than stellar performers.

Second, if the CEO has done a great job of making people believe that the company needs them, others will lose confidence when they finally do leave (think Steve Jobs and Apple).

So what should other promising employees, who could be the future of the company, do?

They should confront the CEO with the following:

  1.  “How committed are you to succession?”
  2. “Please offer a succession plan of action that assigns role responsibilities to people and a timeline.”
  3. “If you are truly committed to succession, do I have your permission to seek out resources within and outside the firm to make that succession a success?”

If you are a CEO, what can you to do to make your exit more tolerable? 

Seek out other ways to exercise the same power and influence that have made being a CEO enjoyable, like Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and Eli Broad did.

Mark Goulston, M.D. is Vice Chairman of Steele Partners, an integrity based business strategic advisory company founded by Chairman, Lt. General Marty Steele (former COO of the USMC) and CEO, Colonel Tom Tyrrell (former senior advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).  Dr. Goulston is the author of the #1 international best selling book, “Just Listen” (Ama com, 2010). Contact him at: [email protected].

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