Knowledge Center: Publication

Chief Executive Officer & Board of Directors

Symbiotic Succession Planning

7/1/2014 John T. Thompson
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Symbiotic Succession Planning 

Smart organizations foster relationships between high potential executives and corporate directors to strengthen the leadership pipeline and minimize CEO succession risk.

In biology, symbiosis involves a mutually beneficial relationship between two independent organisms. Both sides gain from the relationship, and create something together that would not have been possible without each other. An obvious example is the relationship between flowers and honeybees: bees derive nectar from flowers to make honey, and in the process assist in the pollination that triggers plant reproduction.

Symbiosis is not confined to nature. In sports, for instance, observers referred to the relationship between the great boxer Muhammad Ali and the broadcaster Howard Cosell as symbiotic. It’s hard to imagine two more different characters, yet sports historians agree that Ali and Cosell fed off one another and, in the process, increased each other’s stature and success.

The business world is filled with networks in which individuals benefit from one another. Ironically, however, the two parties within every modern corporation who would benefit most from symbiosis— corporate directors and rising star executives—often don’t take advantage of the opportunity. That’s a shame, because doing so could help the company strengthen its leadership pipeline, enhance leadership skills and supercharge its succession planning.

In what we have dubbed “symbiotic succession planning,” organizations pair corporate directors with rising stars in formal mentoring relationship well before an actual succession event. The pairing results in a mutually advantageous relationship that leads to better corporate performance. The directors better equip themselves for their CEO succession duties by gaining an intimate knowledge of internal high-potential talent, and the high-potentials receive invaluable mentoring and coaching from seasoned corporate leaders.

John T. Thompson Vice Chairman +1 650 2341520

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