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7Keys to Successful Succession

7Keys to Successful Succession

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Published by Paul Rattray
Successful Succession is about ensuring that your next leadership transition is as successful as it can be. To do that, a Sacrificial Succession is our recommended solution. Sacrificial Succession is about incumbent sacrificing their leadership for successor success by preparing ready replacements, altruistically handing over leadership mid-tenure and staying on as successor advocate.
Successful Succession is about ensuring that your next leadership transition is as successful as it can be. To do that, a Sacrificial Succession is our recommended solution. Sacrificial Succession is about incumbent sacrificing their leadership for successor success by preparing ready replacements, altruistically handing over leadership mid-tenure and staying on as successor advocate.

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Published by: Paul Rattray on Apr 02, 2013
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02/26/2014

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On this basis then, potential successors can learn to
develop altruistically through ministry, mediatory and
mastery exercises designed to promote and encourage
sacrificial rather than selfish service. However, due to
these motivations being unnatural—even strange—
preparing ready replacements that are more service
orientated than power hungry takes time.
Remember the rule: ministry mediates mastery.
These three distinct, yet related, phases require
incumbent to be directly involved in preparing altruistic,
ready replacements. These phases cannot be fast-tracked
or circumvented and must be followed through.
Observing how a potential successor facilitates their
succession through these ministry, mediatory and
mastery phases gives a clearer picture of their succession
orientations.

A particularly important insight into a potential

successor’s sacrificial or selfish orientation is gained if a

number of these succession phases can be observed
successively then compared to find indicators of whether

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36 | Page

the subject is progressing towards one end of the
sacrificial to selfish spectrum more than another.
Karl Popper explains that this form of scientific
analysis is based on the probability of “neighbourhood
selection”23. In other words, by studying the links
between related elements, certain relationships can be
identified. For example, by ordering primary elements in
a numbered sequence. In this case, the order of ministry,
mediatory and mastery orientations related to secondary
sacrificial and selfish orientations. In so doing, certain
neighbourhood relations are created that are observable
and predictable.

Therefore, in transitions the primary sequence is
these three succession phases and the secondary
relationships are the sacrificial to selfish links to these
succession phases. By comparing the selfish to sacrificial
track record of potential successors within and between
multiple transitions, gives a good indicator of each
candidate’s succession orientations. See the diagram
below that compares between four transitions.

Figure 6: Comparing Multiple Transitions

Based on this logic, the more transitional
sequences or successions observed the better the quality
of assessment that can be made about potential successor
orientations. Comparing each of these relationships over
time is effective triangulation. This exercise in successor
assessment and preparation is best done directly by
incumbents for their direct successors rather than a
leadership collective of professional mentors and coaches.
While professionals are helpful, especially in
providing specialist advice, facts and information, they
play a different role to incumbent as discipler. Because of
this fundamentally different role and relationship, the

Ministry Mediation

Mastery

Ministry Mediation

Mastery

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

How?

How?

How?

How?

How?

How?

Ministry Mediation

Mastery

Ministry Mediation

Mastery

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

How?

How?

How?

How?

How?

How?

Comparing MultipleTransitions

Potential
Successor
Sacrifices
Altruistically
or
Selfishly
?

Transition1

Transition2

Transition3

Transition4

7KEYS

37 | Page

earlier use of the word “disciple” was deliberate. It was
chosen to describe successional candidates rather than
more commonly used words such as trainees, learners or
students, etc., because the authenticity of a disciple is
defined by their proximity to their predecessor.
John N. Williams describes this relational
closeness between predecessor and successor as being
“true succession” 24. Integral to this idea about true
succession is that in some sense predecessor directly
influences successor. Along similar, though more poetic
lines, goes the Hebrew saying, “May you always be
covered by the dust of your rabbi25.”
Being a disciple necessitates two things that are
especially important for readying replacements. First it
requires discipline that: corrects, moulds
and perfects the mental faculties and
moral character of the disciple. Second,
this sort of discipleship works best when
modelled by predecessor.

With such “direct succession
relationships” between predecessor and
successor, the primary legitimacy a successor has is due
to their direct succession relationship with predecessor.
Instead of professional managerial and technical skills or
familial and collegial ties being the primary determiners
or mediators of successor success, it is their proximity to
predecessors that counts.
It is worth noting here that enacting direct
succession relationships by incumbents readying
replacements is regarded by some contemporary
leadership studies as being a less effective form of
leadership development26. This is because of an
assumption that building the bench strength of an overall
leadership team is more effective than slating or
shortlisting specific candidates as replacements.
However, direct succession relationships as
defined here are about the direct discipling relationship
between incumbent and successor. The aim is two-fold.
Build the strength of an overall team of successors and
prepare specific successors to take over particular roles.

The authenticity of a
disciple is defined by
their proximity to their
predecessor.

7KEYS

38 | Page

Therefore, direct succession relationships are
primarily about incumbent attitudes towards successors
and vice versa. Remember what the leader said: “I no
longer call you my staff because staff do not know what
their leaders are doing. Instead I call you my friends,
because everything I have learned from my predecessors
I have made known to you.” Treating potential
successors as friends and colleagues rather than
subordinates or staff is a genuine outworking of this
successional truth.

Conclusion

Obviously the potential for abuse in direct
succession relationships is often found in the close ties
necessary between predecessors and successors for these
relational bonds to occur. This risk factor must be
acknowledged. Due to such biases being a problem, in
most successions the rule is that outgoing leaders are
usually not involved in the final choice of successors or
tend to leave prior to their appointment27.
Consequently, few outgoing leaders are directly
involved post-succession in advocating for successors.
Indeed this is a realistic and pragmatic approach,
especially when dealing with leaders proven to be
selfishly orientated. However this approach falls short in
successions for two important reasons.
First, outgoing leaders held responsible for their
own successional outcomes have a higher stake in them
being successful. Second, as will be discussed more in in
the final seventh 7Key, outgoing leaders can have a
positive impact post-succession as advocates for
successors—both for newly incumbent leaders and the
next generation of successors.
On this basis, preparing ready replacements as
successors requires incumbent to sacrifice their time to
personally prepare successors both pre- and post-
succession. This is an integral part of an outgoing
leader’s pre-succession ministry phase and post-
succession mastery phase of a sacrificial succession.

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39 | Page

Obviously, a reorientation towards personally preparing

ready replacements may be ‘strange’ for many leaders.

Despite these views, research shows that potential
successors value such direct succession relationships
more highly than virtually any other forms of leadership
development28. Incumbents who practice such direct
succession relationships with potential successors will
find this activity personally challenging and rewarding.
Strong bonds between incumbent and potential
successors are formed.

Similarly, organisations that support predecessors
in this activity of directly preparing ready replacements
will find their leadership pipelines start flowing again. In
closing this chapter, it must be acknowledged that
preparing ready replacements through direct succession
relationships between predecessor and successor is
potentially open to abuse.
Due to these legitimate concerns, the next two
keys—exposing egos and open oversight deal with this
potential problem of succession biases and favouritism
openly and honestly, with practical suggestions. Despite
these risks of bias in direct succession relationships, if
ready replacements that are sacrificial rather than selfish
begin to dominate, then selfish orders can and will be
overturned.

To recap, the process of readying replacements
starts with the ability to see that healthy leadership
transitions have three distinct phases: pre-succession, a
succession event and post-succession. For a sacrificial
succession to occur, these three phases involve 1) a
ministry of altruistic service prior to and through
leadership, 2) the primary mediator of these direct
succession relationships is incumbent leader sacrificing
their leadership mid-tenure and 3) a mastery of advocacy
post-succession by outgoing leader is a continuation of
this relationship by advocating for newly incumbent
leader and readying the next generation of successors.
It is important to understand that incumbents and
successors mediate each of these transitional phases
sacrificially or selfishly. Remember the equation:

7KEYS

40 | Page

ministry mediates mastery? As a rule, if a sacrificial
succession is not deliberately enacted then, by default, a
more authoritarian succession that is either familially or
managerially orientated is the most likely outcome.
Because each potential successor goes through a
number of transitional ministry, mediatory and mastery
phases in their lifetimes, tracking and comparing
sequences of these transitions is important to ascertain
selfish to sacrificial successor orientations. By comparing
within and between these transitions, the altruistic to self-
interested progression of a potential successor can be
ascertained and tracked.
The next key of exposing egos is particularly
helpful for providing insights into the sacrificial to selfish
behaviour, progression and regression of potential
successors. It exposes the selfish sacrifices that aspiring
successors are willing to make and explains how to deal
with such potential conflicts in a positive way.
To practically apply the main points of this chapter
in preparing altruistic ready replacements in a
succession, keep these main factors in mind:
1. Make sure the pre-succession is long enough to
observe first-hand how potential successors serve
others prior to and through leadership.
2. Note the importance of comparing these two
distinct aspects of a ministry of service over a
number of transitions if possible.
3. Ensure that the primary mediator of direct
succession relationships is incumbent leader who
intentionally prepares sacrificial successors.
4. Ready replacements are prepared for a transition
because of being informed in advance of the
succession timeline by incumbent.
5. Use the succession equation: ministry mediates
mastery to check the sacrificial to selfish progress of
potential successors over a number of transitions.

7Keys.

7KEYS

41 | Page

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