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John R. Ryan
Military/Administrative leader

John R. Ryan

John R. Ryan is president of the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive education.

Lessons for Boards

No individual leader is more important than their organization. Anne Mulcahy, who led an impressive turnaround at Xerox, did the right thing by stepping down earlier than many people thought she would. She was able to do so because she put into place a strong succession plan. In fact, she obviously considered this plan an important part of her legacy, and she executed it well before her top talent felt tempted to leave for another opportunity. She's set a great example for CEOs everywhere about the importance of grooming several leaders who are ready to step into the top job.

There's also a good lesson here for boards of directors. Generally, they need to do a better job of making sure CEOs understand from their first days on the job that they will be expected to develop solid succession plans across the enterprise. That way, the leadership pipeline never runs dry at any juncture. A recent study by Center for Creative Leadership researcher Roland Smith and Bersin & Associates found that many companies are not taking succession planning seriously enough -- and wind up jeopardizing their long-term performance. Anne Mulcahy has made sure Xerox won't fall into that trap.

By John R. Ryan

 |  May 27, 2009; 10:56 AM ET
Category:  Succession Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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