3 min read

What is an Executive Successor and What To Do if You are One

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Have you recently been wondering: what is an Executive Successor?

 First let’s break down this definition.

An executive is a person considered to be in the senior ranks of leadership and given the responsibility and authority to manage the affairs of an organization. 

A successor is a person who is designated to come after another person.

Therefore, executive successors are the leaders who are designated as the people to become the organization’s next executives, typically Vice President and above. 

Not all companies are transparent about who they name as executive successors, unwilling to risk the many downsides that this can create.  On the other hand, if you have been told by your boss or human resources that you are considered to be a successor to an executive, you are facing an interesting time in your career.  Here is what you can be doing for your own executive successor development to ensure your readiness, if, and when the time comes.

Success Case Study

I coached a leader from a Fortune 100 global company this year before she was appointed to take over her bosses role.  It was an unprecedented for the company to prepare a leader to take over a role of a retiring executive that they were also not promising to her at the time.  She was one of several internal candidates that were under consideration.  Interestingly, they did not provide all of them a role transition coach, so we were optimistic she would become and executive at some point in time. 

Executive Successor Development Strategies That Worked

I’ll start with the end of the story.  Judy was appointed as the successor to her boss 4 months after we started working together, bumping her from a Director to a Vice President.  She attributes her success in part to these development strategies and offers this advice:

  1. Deepen Your Future-Self Awareness: I introduced Judy to the Enneagram Personality System and looked at some of the underlying motivations that drove her behavior at her best, and also under pressure.  Realizing that her new role would put her in some high pressure and stressful situations, we developed some implementation intentions she could begin to practice to mitigate her from defaulting to less effective, reactive habits.  Judy is an Enneagram 3 leadership style and explored how her drive for success could also burn her and others around her out if she didn’t pay attention to the impact she was having.   This led her to establish an open relationship with her mentor to help her spot if she was driving herself and her team too hard.  Now that she is the VP role, she has already been acknowledged for striking the right balance and is enjoying herself.
  1. Deepen Your Understanding of Future Leadership Expectations: Thanks to a strategic HR business partner, Judy was able to learn about the specific leadership qualities that the company defines as successful for the VP.  She was provided a strategic project to work on that helped her develop strategic and influence leadership behaviors, which are two behaviors she would be expected to be proficient in as a VP.  Whether she got her bosses job or not, she was working on important leadership skills that would be useful in her current job as well as down the road. 
  1. Deepen Your Future Stakeholder Relationships: Judy made a list of the executives, peers and key people who would interface with her if she were to take over the new role.  She examined the quality of her relationships and realized there were several that she had let become distant.  She found ways to reconnect or deepen her relationships in a gradual, and more authentic way.  She also worked to have positive peer relationships as possible knowing if she did succeed her boss, those peers would become her direct reports which can be a tricky shift.  She attributes experiencing a wide degree of support from people she thinks otherwise would have had to spend more time with her right after her promotion to engage.

Regardless of whether Judy would be promoted or not, she seized the opportunity for being considered as an executive successor to help her elevate her way of thinking and behaving as a leader even before she was promoted.

If you desire to become an executive, take Judy’s advice and work on a executive successor development plan now.  It may be the very reason you will be handed an executive role. 

Is your Executive Successor ready for the transition? What approach did you use? Tell us below!


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