Sometimes the person who brings the most monetary value to a business is not the person with the right skill set to lead the organization. Balancing an individual’s goals against the long term needs of the business can be difficult: you don’t want to lose your top performer but you can’t necessarily give them the job they want. The retiring regional CEO of a financial services firm in Asia faced just this dilemma when selecting his successor.
Bill was a rainmaker and a key figure; he was responsible for a large share of the companies income and some of the biggest deals. He was a natural salesman with ambition and a strong desire to move into the CEO position. However, the retiring CEO whilst valuing his bottom line contribution, felt he lacked the necessary vision and leadership skills for the top job.
So what did we do?
To find a way forwards that worked for everyone we needed to get to the heart of the issue; to understand what was holding Bill back and to examine his needs in context with the organizations needs. We started with some 360 degree feedback. This showed us that although Bill was viewed as an excellent leader and communicator by his direct reports- his peers didn’t share their view. Bill was skilled at managing down and his team was fiercely loyal. Unfortunately, he had not invested time in building those critical lateral relationships and working collaboratively. There was also some resentment from his peers on his “maverick” personality. These factors affected his perceived readiness for the top position and needed to be addressed.
Bill took both the positive and negative feedback with calm and a degree of resignation. He had worked with these people for over a decade. How would he be able change their impression in six months and if he wasn’t able to- should he resign he wondered? Moving on was certainly one option available to Bill and it was only natural that he wanted to explore this, but we wanted to help him think more broadly and move away from a fixed mindset. We used our professional experience to help bring realism to the situation and really get into the nitty gritty of the different options.
Having explored a number of different scenarios Bill developed two detailed action plans: one would address pushing for the top job, the other leaving the organization and starting his own business. Bill shared his work plan with colleagues involved in the 360 feedback. Critical to the perception of behavioural change is a public acknowledgment that you intend to change so Bill thanked them and asked for their ongoing input as he underwent a series of developmental initiatives. By doing so Bill involved his colleagues in his success and made it difficult for them to revert to old ways of thinking about him. Over a six month period, he checked in with colleagues and updated them on his progress. Although sporadic and ad hoc those touchpoints for communication with his peers eliminated many misperceptions about Bill being a maverick and
By creating a safe space for considering his options, we helped Bill to see beyond the job title and discover what excited and engaged him about his work. This allowed us to explore new and innovative solutions from a position of calm and personal self awareness. We supported him as he developed new perspectives and insights and he became clear of his next steps -regardless of the role he held. In the end, Bill didn’t get the top job but stayed on. A regional CEO from outside Asia was brought in. Four years later-Bill is once again in line for the top job with a more assured chance of success.