Freeman’s advice on CEO transitions

Mark Achtmeyer Portrait for Canadian Business MagazineIn the latest issue of HR People + Strategy, Anna A. Tavis highlights multiple perspectives on the challenges of the CEO transition. Her article titled, The Brave New CEO Transition, discusses points from a panel of experts on the topic. Among the panelists featured is our own Kenneth W. Freeman, Allen Questrom Professor and Dean.

Research suggests that many newly selected CEO’s rise to the top while still in their predecessor’s shadow. This is because the ex-CEO often remains as a chairman or board member for a few years after stepping down. This lingering is the root of many transitional challenges and Freeman suggests in his article, Knowing When to Let Go, that making a clean break—though it may be difficult—is the right move.

Chief executives are not eager to hand over the power that comes with their CEO reputation. For that reason, their ego often becomes one of the first obstacles for the new CEO to overcome. Freeman explains how the outgoing CEO’s ego gets in the way, “They can’t imagine that an adequate replacement exists. And they want to see their legacy extended. So they drag their feet in preparing a successor or do an inadequate job, subtly or not so subtly reinforcing the notion that they should be kept on in some capacity or other.”

To avoid this, companies should eliminate the lingering of the previous leader. This allows the new CEO to truly start working and begin making immediate positive impact. “Knowing that you have only so much time to make your mark as CEO can inject a real sense of urgency into your work.” Freeman explains, “And because you don’t expect to hang on after vacating the corner office, you are forced to think clearly and carefully about the skills your successor will need and thus about your own strengths and weaknesses.”

Read the full article for Freeman’s additional thoughts on the topic.

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