succession planning for emerging leaders

Your bench player is getting called into the game. Is she ready?

Here’s a popular question for leaders: “What keeps you up at night?” or “What wakes you up at night?” The question is likely overused, but the answers can be powerful. It gets to a core question: what are you most worried about? When your mind is still and not dealing with an urgent challenge, what bubbles to the surface? One of the answers I hear from organization leaders is around leadership development and succession planning. That is, whether their emerging leaders – the next ones to step-up in the organization – are ready. Let’s look further at this challenge.

Succession planning is only the start

Talent management or succession planning is often done on paper. Typically, you have:

  • identified who many of the next leaders of the company are
  • listed out the gaps in their competencies
  • have a sketch of the plan to get them ready

A plan is a good start. Stay tuned to our blog where I am going to dig into each of those parts of the plan.

My next questions for you now are: What is in the leadership development plan and how are you implementing it?

Playing catch-up is not a strategy

You never know when you are going to lose a leader more quickly than your succession planning had estimated. You have to call one of your emerging leaders “into the game”, so to speak.

Is she ready?

If she’s not ready, how are you supporting her through her leadership development? She is going to be overwhelmed by the new challenges coming her way because she’s stepping into a role she is not ready for. If you expect her to contribute quickly then how are you helping her succeed? If you are holding out on development until she is called up into the game, you are playing catch-up. Playing catch-up is not a strategy. It’s necessary sometimes, but it is not a strategy.

Leadership development in the minor league

Implementing a strong talent development or succession plan starts well before the individual is called into the game. I like to use the example of baseball. Once you are drafted by a major league baseball team, you start in their minor league system. In the minor league system is where you begin learning and improving on the skills it will take to play in the majors. In leadership development, this means tactical skills and the inner work, building self-awareness, devoting time to self-development on changing the thoughts, behaviors and ideas that hold us back.

Preparing your emerging leaders for the majors

In baseball, a player can progress through Single A, Double A and Triple A before getting called to the major leagues.

Are they always successful when they are called up?

However, they have a much better chance of succeeding than if she entered the majors without any development. They aren’t starting from scratch. These players may not be used to major league pitching and hitting, but they have honed their skills daily for years and are ready to apply them to the highest level of challenge.

Are you developing your emerging leaders so they are ready to apply their skills and abilities, both internal and tactical, to a greater challenge level? Or are you waiting to develop them once they have been promoted to that new level?

The former has a greater chance of success for your organization and that leader.

Examine your succession planning for your emerging leaders. One off training sessions or simply assigning them a mentor will not get them ready to be called into the game. Look at their development holistically. What is missing? Decide what is going to make them the most effective when they get called up to a new level of leadership. The time to begin their development in a continuous and structured way is now.


succession planning, Leadership Development: Getting Called into the Game

Amy Wolfgang

Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.

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succession planning, Leadership Development: Getting Called into the Game

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