In mid-October, American Express announced the retirement of its CEO, Kenneth Chenault, who has served in his role for the last 16 of his nearly 37 years at the company. Although the financial services giant has been grooming its incoming CEO, vice chairman Stephen Squeri, for the last two years, this will undoubtedly be a time of great change for all American Express employees.
In the wake of high-profile leadership transitions like this, many senior executives are reminded that they, too, must eventually step aside for their successor – and it’s always better to be prepared well before the torch needs to be passed. Whether you’re a C-suite member approaching retirement or the next in line for an executive position, it’s important to be thinking about what the transition will look like, and how best to handle it for the good of the company and its people.
Forbes Coaches Council members pulled some of the most important lessons Chenault’s departure can teach leaders about leadership and transition, and what you can do now to ensure a plan is in place.
1. Treat Every Employee With Respect As They Exit
The way a leader (or any employee) is treated as they leave the company says much about the company. “Esteemed” leaders should be treated with respect, as should those who “didn’t work out.” They were there for a reason. People deal with change differently. Those who remain will have a range of emotions, fears and hopes. Good leaders coach others through this to keep the ship moving forward. – Tim Ressmeyer, Ressmeyer Partners
2. Take All Change In Stride
Kenneth Chenault and many of his contemporaries will each leave behind incredible legacies given their unique and powerful contributions to their respective companies. It can be easy to become comfortable with the people and policies that make up culture, especially when those people and policies have been positive. But change is a constant variable and must be taken in stride. – Karima Mariama-Arthur, Esq., WordSmithRapport
3. New ‘Big Ideas’ Are Imagined During Times Of Transition
CEO transitions should be seen as a time in which to develop new and exciting ideas, not just carry on impressive legacies or the status quo. When people are well prepared to let go of what “was,” there is an opportunity for creativity that was not present before. Use this time to stir excitement, birth new ideas, and create stronger and more engaged teams. – Dr. Rachel MK Headley, Rose Group, Intl
Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?
4. Transitions Should Be Made At The Height Of Success
Too many times, we see leaders resign when the company is at its worst and leadership is in turmoil. Being able to pass the torch to someone you have helped mentor and prepare is the goal for any company and CEO. If you transition to a successor who knows the business and brand as well as you do, you’re able to exit knowing you left the company better than when you came. – Niya Allen-Vatel, Career Global
5. Leaders Are Remembered For How They Made People Feel
Everyone has wins and losses while leading a firm. What people truly remember is how you made them feel in the heat of the battle. Admired leaders remember to treat employees at all levels with respect and play a strong hand in bolstering the success of others. There are a lot of billionaires in the world, but only one or two that generate followership over the long term. – Shoma Chatterjee, ghSMART
6. Be Humble Enough To Know When To Bow Out
One problem successors run into is that they are passed the reins after the momentum has left. They are then tasked with reviving a situation, when they could be focusing energy into making it thrive. As leaders, it’s important to know when your influential apex has passed and be willing to bow out so that your hard work counts for something more than a title. Pass the torch while it yet burns. – Maleeka T. Hollaway, The Official Maleeka Group, LLC.
7. Define Your Leadership Communication Strategies
A transition is a good time to establish clarity around key elements of communication. Many wealthy and successful business leaders struggle or have struggled with speaking in public. This skill is essential to getting across ideas, persuading investors, inspiring employees, attracting customers and engaging critical stakeholders. – Maria Pastore, Maria Pastore Coaching
8. Companies Should Always Be Grooming The Next In Line
When people transition, the first question is, “Who do we have left?” The important lesson in transitions is to remain ready. HR often nags and rants about succession planning, but this is where it really comes into play. We can never really plan for a disaster, but we can groom people and have contingency plans to stay afloat when the unexpected (or expected) happens. Talent agility is key! – Kelah Raymond, SPARC Solutions Group
9. Honor The Difference Between Change And Transition
As William Bridges reminds us, “Change is situational; transition is psychological.” It is essential to give respect to both aspects. When change occurs within an organization, so too begins a transition, which is experienced uniquely by all its participants. Strong change management processes offer space to navigate the external changes and the internal transitions with equal investment. – Tonyalynne Wildhaber, The Courage Practice
10. Leaders Should Create A Personal Transition Plan, Too
Successful CEOs have a vision for success and know how to execute on it. Yet many senior leaders haven’t defined what success looks like during one of the most significant transitions in their lives: retirement. This transition requires reflecting on what will be lost – paycheck, schedule, intellectual stimulation, professional identity – along with identifying dreams to be achieved. – Tricia Christian, EY
11. New Leaders Should Stay The Course Until They’ve Mastered the Helm
When a CEO has been successful and a company is thriving, new CEOs want to come in and make their mark, implement new and exciting technology, and start their own legacy. However, it’s critical you keep doing what the prior regime did until you know the staff, programs, statistics, and how all departments flow and integrate. Then you will see gaps you can leverage without rocking the boat. – Tracy Repchuk, InnerSurf Online Brand & Web Services