Sacrificial Succession: A theoretical solution to transition crisis

Despite improved professional succession planning and management, leadership development and placement techniques and technologies, transition crises continue to occur. Selfish successions and successors are often to blame. While recent research supports altruistic leadership as an alternative, little has been done to apply these findings to transitions. This paper proposes an altruistic alternative called “sacrificial succession”. Sacrificial succession requires incumbents to sacrifice their leaderships mid-tenure for successor success preceded by pre-succession then post-succession preparation of sacrificial successors.

Commonly offered solutions to transition crisis include: improving professional succession planning and management (Chittoor & Das, 2007, Martin, 2007) along with leadership development (Charan, Drotter & Noel, 2011) and placement techniques and technologies (Agrawal, Manyika & Richards, 2003). Greater top leader responsibility for the transition process is also recommended (Charan, 2005). Despite the proliferation of these formalised, managerial succession “best” practices, outcome evidence questions their ultimate effectiveness for solving transition crisis (Bach, 2008, Garman & Glawe, 2004). Increasingly ageing leaderships (Rothwell, 2011), next generations of leaders less willing to take on corporate leadership (Pattakos, 2004) and current leaders succeeding selfishly rather than sacrificially are all indicative of this transition problem (Harrison & Fiet, 1999).

Altruistic  leadership  
Given these unresolved challenges, an alternative, theoretical solution to transition crisis is sacrificial succession. It aims to produce more altruistic incumbents, successors and successions. Normally, leadership succession is defined as the transfer of managerial control from predecessor to successor (De Massis, Chua & Chrisman, 2008). Sacrificial succession requires incumbents to sacrifice their leadership mid-tenure for successor success preceded by pre-succession then post-succession preparation of altruistic successors. Supporting this proposal is a growing body of evidence emerging from behavioural and social sciences suggesting that altruistic leaders tend to be more effective mentors and motivators of their followers (De Cremer, Mayer, van Dijke, Schouten & Bardes, 2009, van Knippenberg & van Knippenberg,

2005), even if they are atypical of their more extraverted counterparts (Boudreau, Boswell, & Judge, 2001). Dynamic systems research also finds that leaders who can identify with strange deviations from leadership norms can be more proactive change agents (Hazy, Goldstein & Lichtenstein, 2007, Pascale, Millemann & Gioja, 2000). Incumbent sacrificing leadership mid-term for successor rather than self-success is an example of this ‘strange attraction’ through sacrifice’. Its liminal power is found in the “communitas” of mutual sacrifice (Turner, 1969:96) that occurs between predecessor and successor (Rennaker, 2005). Generally, the aim of altruistic leadership development is to identify the “other-orientedness” of leaders as a humane factor found in those more naturally inclined to serve others rather than themselves (Singh & Krishnan, 2008, Page & Wong, 2000). Another important finding is that genuine altruism goes beyond having altruistic values to leaders taking sacrificial action (Winston & Ryan, 2008). Two transitions worthy of mention, as examples, are those of Fannie Mae’s David Maxwell to Jim Johnson in the U.S. and F. W. de Klerk to Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Unlike his successors, David Maxwell voluntarily relinquished his rights to a large final retirement payout by donating it for low cost housing (Snopes, 2012, Collins, 2001, Newswire, 1992). Both F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela sacrificed their more radical political agendas for conciliatory leadership transition in South Africa (De Klerk, 2011, Mandela, 2010, Limb, 2008). Common expressions of this altruism are servant leadership (Sendjaya & Sarros, 2002), transformational leadership (Gardiner, 2006) or a humane orientation (House et al, 2010). As a quasireligious and humanistic ideal, there is one significant limitation of these altruistic expressions of leadership. It is their lack of a succession mechanism to guide the sacrificial mid-tenure hand over of leadership from predecessor to successor.

Succession  Mechanisms    
Sacrificial succession may be this succession mechanism. Theorised as the logical outcome of altruistic leadership, sacrificial succession could act as a missing successional link in altruistic transitions. More common succession mechanisms include familial successions that mediate dynastic transitions and managerial transitions that are the primary mediators of corporate successions. Both are relatively stable or chaotic depending on their triggers or causes (Bynander & 't Hart, 2006), the degree of pre-succession planning (Garman & Tyler, 2007), the revolutionary or evolutionary nature

and timing of the succession event itself (Murray, 2003) and whether or not outgoing leader has positive or negative input post-succession (Perry & Yao, 2007). In corporate successions few succeeded leaders stay on post-succession other than in family transitions because of concerns about their potentially undue influence on successors. Despite these norms, ambassadorial leaders are arguably beneficial to their successors and organisations post-succession (Sonnenfeld, 2004). Outgoing ambassadorial leaders can help guide new incumbents and prepare the next generations of altruistic successors (Miller, 2001, Sonnenfeld, 1988).

Mid-­‐term  transition  
A sacrificial succession by incumbent for successor mid-transition may be a suitable succession mechanism, provided it gives enough time for presuccession preparation of successors and postsuccession support by outgoing leader of new incumbents and their next generations of altruistic successors. Potentially, a sacrificial succession could be implemented along the following timelines over a seven-year period. See the following Seven-year Sacrificial Succession Timeline:
Phases Predecessor Successor Pre(Succession Years&1(2
Prepares' altruistic' successors Serves&others& prior&to& leadership

True  succession  
These more direct rather than indirect succession relationships are philosophically closer to “true succession” due to predecessor directly influencing successor (Williams, 1988:158). Historically, great leaders who intentionally prepared and discipled successors well in advance of their successions appeared to have had more successful transitions than those who did not. For example, humanly speaking, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad all had untimely deaths. Buddha and Muhammad were poisoned and Jesus was crucified (Akanni, 2010, Chopra, 2007, Matthew 27 & John 9). Only Jesus appears to have prepared and informed his potential successors well in advance of his impending succession (Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 20:17-19, 26:1-2, Mark 10:32-34, Luke 18:31-34). Buddha, on other hand, confirmed that his Sangha collective would succeed him on his deathbed (Piyasilo, 1992). By most accounts Muhammad failed to notify his immediate heirs of a preferred successor before his untimely death (Campbell, 2008). Recent research finds direct relationships between leaders who mentor potential successors to be the most highly regarded by successional candidates (San, Rioux & Bernthal, 2000). Similarly, the risks of not planning for a succession and preparing successors well in advance of a transition are clearly documented (Ukaegbu, 2003, Maphosa, 1999). Given the potential of altruistic, direct succession relationships to improve leadership transitions, it is important to have a succession mechanism that can facilitate this activity. The succession mechanism proposed here is sacrificial succession. Its key element is an intentionally altruistic mid-tenure succession mediated by incumbent specifically for successor success.

Succession&Event Year&4A
Appoints' successor'pre4 succession Succeeds& without& expectation&

Post(Succession Year&5
Advocates'for' incumbent'with' Leadership Prepares& altruistic& successors

Predicts' timing'of' succession Serves& through& leadership

Hands'over' leadership' sacrificially Accepts& altruistic& sacrifice&

Readies'next' generation'of' successors Predicts&terms& and&timing&of& succession

This timeline is consistent with current research findings that transitional leadership tenures in both non-profit (Hull-Teegarden, 2004) and for-profit (Favaro, Karlsson & Neilson, 2011) sectors are now averaging less than ten years. The main logic of this sacrificial succession timeline is that the sacrificial event occurs mid-transition rather than at the beginning or towards the end-of-tenure. This could help with problems of incumbents leaving too early or too late in a transition that is a common cause of crisis and failure in leadership successions. A sacrificial succession is potentially most effective when the mid-tenure transition of leadership is intentional about post succession advocacy by outgoing leader and pre-succession preparation of altruistic successor candidates. Rather than incumbents leaving too early or too late in a transition, by sacrificing leadership midtenure, outgoing leaders are able to prepare future successors at both ends of a transition cycle. Legitimate concerns about outgoing leaders having an undue influence on successors and successions, may be alleviated in two main ways. Initially by developing and choosing more altruistic than self-interested successors during the pre-succession period. Then by rewarding outgoing leaders that sacrifice their leaderships mid-term and stay on as post-succession advocates.

Some probable implications of applying sacrificial succession during each transitional phase, include: 1) encouraging direct succession relationships between predecessors and successors, 2) developing and promoting altruistic successors first rather than last,

and 3) tying remuneration and retirement packages directly to incumbents practicing sacrificial succession. In other words, during the entire leadership transition cycle: pre-succession, succession event and post-succession. The significance of the changes a sacrificial succession could place on predecessors and successors and leadership transitions should not be understated. However as a potential solution to succession failure and crisis, sacrificial succession is promising. By practically applying these theoretical ideas, a better understanding of the potential and limitations of sacrificial succession as a solution to leadership transition crisis becomes possible.

About  the  Author  
Paul has lived and worked cross-culturally for most of his life. He has been a business founder, university convenor and project manager, with particular expertise in Indonesian language and culture. One of Paul’s main passions is to see good leaders become great successors by practicing sacrificial succession. If you would like to contact Paul, email: PaulRattray@CVC.TV.

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