Emotional Intelligence – Improving the CEO Succession Process


The Successor’s Dilemma – CEO succession is an emotionally charged issue and one of the most difficult situations corporate boards face today. It also represents one of the board’s most important decisions. Since Dan Ciampa, a management consultant, first coined the term “successor’s dilemma,” much has been written. However, CEO succession is a dilemma for more than just the successor.It’s not unusual to see an individual brought in as president or chief operating officer with the intention of grooming him or her for the highest office and then watching that person walk out the door before ascending to the top job. These succession difficulties have more than just an internal effect. They can also affect the company’s stock.A No-Win SituationWhy is this happening? Leadership transitions are fraught with emotional tension. There’s a lot at stake, and it is much more than a business transaction. Most boards, CEOs and successors find it difficult to handle the situation well because they are unprepared to manage the intense emotional turmoil that accompanies such a transition.The power struggle between a CEO and his successor has gained a reputation as a no-win situation. Even if he names the successor, the CEO may have difficulty relinquishing the power and leaving a job that has been his identity.Likewise, the successor faces a troubling Catch-22: he may be viewed as a threat by the CEO when he endeavors to demonstrate his leadership abilities. But if he holds back, he’s labeled as incapable of the leadership needed for the top job.Everyone involved could experience worry, frustration, anxiety and even anger at times. While it’s unpleasant to feel these emotions, research has also shown that experiencing them actually inhibits cognitive functioning. The technical term for this is cortical inhibition, but it is also well known as “emotional hijacking.” So the old saying, “I was so upset I couldn’t think straight” is actually true. Have you ever become mad at yourself for hitting a bad golf shot or performing poorly when you usually excel. What typically happens to your performance after that? It gets worse. You are not as likely to perform at your best or make the best decisions when you experience negative emotions. Experiencing negative emotions is normal, but most people don’t know how to positively manage these emotional reactions. The situation often escalates into open hostility or conflict, and the board finds itself caught in the middle.Planning for SuccessThe succession issue doesn’t have to be so painful and difficult. By preparing the board, the CEO and his successor for the process, it can be a win-win situation. This preparation includes making a plan, involving both the board and CEO in the process, and, of most importance, minimizing the emotionally charged transition by equipping the board, CEO and upper management ranks with techniques to manage their emotions.The most successful leadership transitions result when those involved have improved their emotional intelligence (EI) skills. Recognizing that there are many strong negative emotions during any transition is the first step. Denying these types of feelings just makes the whole situation more difficult and more volatile.Managing EmotionsHow are emotional intelligence skills enhanced, so that emotional mismanagement doesn’t occur? Through simple strategies that can be learned and practiced, so that you can improve how you handle situations you perceive as threatening. Consequently, an overall management development strategy needs to include training in EI development.While a few people have naturally high emotional intelligence, (just as some people are mathematical geniuses) most of us need some skill development in this area. Unfortunately, the typical K-12 educational system includes training in math, reading, writing and other subjects, but doesn’t address the key emotional management skills that are necessary for success. Neither do university curricula. So it’s not a person’s fault if he or she doesn’t have high EI skills. He or she simply never was taught those skills.You cannot develop emotional intelligence skills by reading a book or an article or listening to a lecture. It takes training and practice. But the good news is that it can be learned.Effective emotional self-awareness, emotional self-management, and empathy on the part of the CEO, his successor, the existing and transitioning executive team and the board are hallmarks of a seamless succession process.In other words, when everyone involved has developed skills in the emotional intelligence competencies, the whole transition runs more smoothly. This includes not only the board but also everyone at the executive level who plays a key role in a successful transition.

Article Tags:
Emotional Intelligence, Negative Emotions

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Byron Stock guides individuals and organizations toward excellence by
helping them develop their Emotional Intelligence skills as a powerful
tool to achieve strategic objectives, lead change and create resilient,
high-performing organizational cultures.  Visit
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