Leadership Succession: Who’s Next Up?

“A leader’s lasting value is measured by succession.” – John C. Maxwell

In my younger days, I was an aspiring baseball player, relegated initially to the bench for a couple of seemingly endless seasons.  One coach I remember distinctly used to tell us ‘bench-riders’ that we could never just sit there if we really wanted to play…we had to think, “What if I’m next up?”

Be ready to get off the bench and play ball. Does your team have a leadership succession plan?What he was telling us was indeed true, and remains true today, in sports as well as leadership.  How many times have you seen someone step in from the bench and lead the team to victory?

One specific example that comes to mind is 36-year-old quarterback Craig Morton’s brilliant performance in the September 23, 1979 NFL contest between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.  Morton, having been benched several times before as the Broncos QB, seemed mired in another backup season as Game 4 rolled around against the division rival Seahawks.

But late in the 3rd quarter with the team trailing 34-10, Morton goes in and leads the Broncos to a 37-34 victory, initially throwing three touchdown passes in 2 minutes and 34 seconds after entering the game.  Some have called this the greatest bench performance in NFL history.[1]

FootballWhat’s in this story for us?  Here are three lessons that I think we can apply to our leadership journey, both for ourselves and those we serve:

  1. Think about what you’ll do if you’re “Next Up.” All too many times we’ve seen leaders thrust into a new role without being ready for it.  Everyone loses when the new leader flounders.  Morale, profitability, and the culture usually all suffer.  Spend a few minutes each day thinking about what you would do if you are called to step up.
  2. Ask yourself this question each week: “Who’s the Next You? At least 80% of the time when I ask leaders this question, I get silence as the answer…we have to do better than that.  I’d suggest you have at least two successors in mind for your position, and start a focused development plan for them.
  3. Conduct “what if” scenarios and exercises on a regular basis. Think about where we’ve been in the last 8 months.  I’m not suggesting we could have anticipated a global pandemic, but there are things we can do to be prepared for the unexpected.  I recommend you conduct regular scheduled – and even unscheduled – simulations where a junior leader has to step forward and lead your team through an unexpected scenario.  Then conduct an after-action review to examine what happened, and why.

These three lessons can really increase your confidence, and those of your team members when it’s time to be “next up.”

Enjoy the journey!



[1] See “The Best Performance EVER Off the Bench” on You Tube for a 13-minute account of this story.

[image source: pixabay.com]

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