Executive Coaching to retain both candidates in a CEO succession race

In the world of talent management no scenario has greater potential for a negative outcome than when you have more than one strong potential successor in the CEO pipeline. This seems paradoxical as the aim of any strong leadership pipeline process is to build depth and create options. This is typically because success in any career is often myopically defined by linear progression, and not by other factors such as breadth of experience, true mastery, doing what really matches my unique ability and makes me happy.

What getting to the “top” means, needs to be actively redefined not only within the organisation, but also for each individual. This is where executive coaching can play a significant role in helping to reset and manage the potential candidate’s expectations through what is often a very intense and often anxiety provoking experience.

The anxiety for any high ambitious high performer is first based on “if I don’t make it I have failed”. Putting up one’s hand for the top role by default put’s one into a competitive space, where success and failure may be visible to some or many. The sense of failure is often amongst one’s peers and these generally are perceived as having the most value to people in our organisational social structures.

The second component is more of a performance based anxiety and drive. The individual has an aspiration to make it to the top role, because this is how they have defined success in their minds. Not making it means that I now have lost the opportunity and therefore need to move onto a new organisation where I can see the potential to succeed.

A third element is that the successful and unsuccessful candidates will often have to work together after having been put into a competitive space. It requires a high level of emotional intelligence in the incoming incumbent to keep the unsuccessful candidate engaged. Particularly as they are now reporting to a “peer”.

Many times one sees the unsuccessful candidate leave the organisation based on these three underlying personal and social dynamics that emerge when one enters into a competition of this nature. Despite often the best attempts by organisations to manage this, by being discrete, keeping the “circle” of those who know small, and attempting to keep the unsuccessful candidate engaged by expanding their role, they fail to retain.

The coach can play a key role in supporting the retention and promotion process. This is by proactively expanding each potential candidates thinking and understanding of career success before they are asked to put their hand up. Having this a one of several options before entering reduces the stakes, and hence the anxiety that may emerge. Also creating a communication channel where the organisation can engage with the candidates and manage concerns as they emerge, and not only post the decision. Finally and perhaps most importantly supporting the successful incumbent in keeping the individuals engaged, and integrated as they form their team.

Written by: John Brodie