The No 1 Secret To Leadership Succession (And The 20 Steps That Help It Add Value!)

In January this year, McKinsey released a publication which was heavily focused on the LAST 100 days that a CEO serves in office … this is a topic dear to my heart !! As an Interim CEO who specializes in navigating companies through honesty or change ahead of handing them over to other leaders, achieving…

In January this year, McKinsey released a publication which was heavily focused on the LAST 100 days that a CEO serves in office … this is a topic dear to my heart !!

As an Interim CEO who specializes in navigating companies through honesty or change ahead of handing them over to other leaders, achieving effective handovers is something I have had to do on many occasions. Not unexpectedly, receiving handovers is also something I have a great deal of experience in too !!

My own handover methodology was forged in steel during the years I spent in Brunei in the late 90s. During this period, I was managing a team that generally included 35 expats who were rolling in and out on a 5 to 6 week rotation. The need for handovers was high. The need for well-oiled handover machine even more so – our clients were paying top dollar for our efficient management after all!

The significant lessons I learned at that time were about the discipline of handovers. In particular, the need for and the benefits of a handover plan, the benefits of handing over in a very practical way and how the provision of a strategic background was so advantageous to the person coming in – setting the context so to speak.

This was also the point in my life where I identified what I now regard to the number one rule of successful handovers. It is this:


In terms of managing my own success, both as an incoming and as an outgoing Interim CEO, and also in respect of every handover that any of my staff have since since that time, this lesson has remained the foundation principle. It works.

On top of this principle, the other succession disciples and practices all fall into place. Some have changed over the years, of course, and I have certainly made some changes, dropped a few, added new ones, redesigned and improved others and absolutely saw the best and worst of what other people do (or do not do). In the end, I believe I have pretty much come up with a list that cuts to the bone of good practice.

Here it is:


1. Create an all singing all dancing Action List for each of your direct reports.

2. Identify whether the strategic direction the business is on is the same one you would keep it on if you were not leaving;

3. Identify whether there are any risk management changes you would make if you were staying on.

4. Consider the IT, personnel and financial resources that your successor will inherit – would you make any decisions or changes in respect of these if you were staying on? Will these enable the business to hit its targets this year? Next year?

5. Create a Handover Program – dates, topics, sessions for Q & A, ideas on how you will introduce or introduce others (both internally and externally).

6. Pull out your own handover notes and the package of data you received when you started – what do you wish you had better understood?

7. Set up an email address for the new person … and start to copy this address on important correspondence during the lead up to their commmentment

8. Prepare your materials, notes and thoughts for the handover – in particular the areas detailed below.


1. Pass complete functional authority to your successor on their first day (or as soon as possible thereafter). A new leader can not learn whilst they are in your shadow – and it does not matter that you feel many things would be faster to resolve than to explain!

2. Communicate to all stakeholders, including staff, shareholders (if relevant), suppliers, bankers and customers, that a handover of functional responsibility has occurred (ideally, many should have already known in advance that this was coming)

3. Review your Action List with your successor. One item at a time. Allocate the items you will keep and resolve during the handover period and what they will assume immediately.

4. Empty your in-Tray, review each item and pass it over.

5. Open your own email client, review each email sent or received during the previous 14 -28 days and discuss its status. Each day during the handover, continue this practice until all 'live' issues are passed over

6. Explain where all information is kept and why. Make sure you take time to get to the bottom of all filing and storage systems as explaining why these exist often helps people to adopt them (at least until such time as they develop their own). A large productivity killer in succession is due to reinvention of information – simply because a successor can not find it!

7. Open every folder, file, drawer and cupboard in your exclusive control and have a handover session dedicated to discussing its contents, action items that may evolve, ratione for filing in the manner you have etc

8. Repeat the previous step for all soft copy folders located on servers, external drives; anywhere else.

9. Hold personnel focused discussion about each of the staff that report directly to you – referring to their personnel file during this discussion is preferred. Extend this discussion to reports down-line from them where relevant – in particular where there are stars (or problems) emerging

10. Discuss likely succession candidates

11. Provide a HOT LIST of significant passwords, access codes, user names, account names, company data, mailing addresses, contacts, telephone numbers, and email addresses. (You will have wings of the building named after you for this alone!)

12. Take a tour of the concessions from your perspective, pointing out everything that you use and everything that you regard to be of relevance.