The Last At-Bat
It's the Bart Starr Syndrome: Too many of the great ones have difficulty letting go. Ted Williams hit a home run in his last at bat. But others, like Willie Mays and Tom Seaver and too many sports, politics, and business Hall of Famers have hung on long after their best days were behind them. Arlen Specter could have gone out as a distinguished U.S. Senator who fought for what he believed in. Now he will be remembered primarily as a politician who switched parties to keep himself in office.
(However, being in my dotage, I find my views on this issue tempering a bit. Where you stand is not unaffected by where you sit.)
People who stay too long no longer bring their A game, but much more important, their presence blocks the healthy movement of others up the ladder. A leadership pipeline is only useful if there is room at the top. When we work with top teams, we often ask about succession plans. Instead, what we frequently find, instead, are non-succession plans.
The best antidote is culture change, not rule-making, although with all their drawbacks, mandatory retirement ages or term limits can help drive a resistant culture. We see active formal succession planning as an essential element of good stewardship for those at the top in any endeavor.
Making yourself dispensable is a recurring leadership challenge. It is Tuesday, May 26, 2009. What have you done to better prepare your successor today?
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