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Succession Planning by Developing Better Leaders Than Yourself

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Ygnacio “Nash” Flores, Tracy Rickman and Don Mason
November 10, 2019

Public Administrators cannot remain in office forever. There comes a point in time where stepping down and passing on the reigns to the next generation of leaders is in the best interest of the organization, as well as of the administrator. Leaders that overstay their usefulness to an organization have a negative effect on the organization’s culture and effectiveness. The long-awaited departure of overstay-leaders is often uncomfortable and welcomed. There are many reasons for this. However, the realization of the individual’s own stance is the premise of this article.

It is easy to narrowly focus on applying succession planning to just your own organization. Administrators need to consider succession planning across a spectrum of industries. This is a vital role for an administrator. So too is developing personnel in the organization for varied leadership roles. Therefore, succession planning should be approached from the perspective of your personnel succeeding in varied environments and administrative ecosystems. The thought of, “Leading by preparing the next leaders,” should be a focus, not a hinderance, to developing rising leaders in an organization. Administrators need to let go of the overemphasis of one’s own importance in an organization.

One approach to personnel development is framing the development of employees from the perspective of your own career as a baseline. A foundation for this succession-planning method is to aim for your potential replacement to be better than you were when they assume their new administrative roles. The challenge of tampering down one’s ego may be difficult for some administrators, but it is necessary, especially for those that practice servant leadership. Too often a vain administrator will be heard to claim, “This place will fall apart when I am gone,” or, “She is not prepared for this chair,” or, “He’ll not be able to lead us through the next project to completion.” All these statements resonate with poor leadership that rests on a rusted and feeble pedestal of self-worth based upon inflated egos.

Administrators making disastrous claims such as these are confirming their own failure to either prepare their personnel for promotion or identify qualified candidates from outside of their organization for inclusion as a future leader. The need to diminish the future success of others can be viewed as poor leadership. It can stem from a self-induced concept of being, “Better than others,” or merely a fear of what others may accomplish, that one was not able to complete. An administrator must realize that they cannot be everything to an organization. All leaders have a limit to their value.

By using your own career as a benchmark, reflect on what would have better facilitated your transition to the top administrative chair. Identify how technology has changed your role and how technology will change administration in a future organization. Relying too much on your career path as the only route to success may prepare your replacement to lead an organization from the last decade and not to lead an organization for the next decade.

If your growth as a leader was due to professional certifications or qualifications, did you provide your successor with the requisite training and education to meet the technical requirements of sitting in the administrator’s suite? If hands-on training is a vital experience—say in finance and budgeting—did you provide the opportunity for your successor to work in the finance department? Have you done all you can to maintain the high standards of excellence in your organization by preparing others to one day take over your current role? It’s not too late to begin.

Likewise, developing a succession of future leaders requires more than attending leadership training classes and seminars. You must place your employees in positions where they can apply theories and models in an actual working environment. You must also expect them to make mistakes—it is imperative to use mistakes as a learning opportunity.

Administrators should plan for succession in their organizations as well as in the employment market in general. There is no error in developing a leader for another organization. Think of the benefit of having a favorable fingerprint on leaders across an industry compared to a legacy that is short-lived and frowned upon.

The need for public administrators to actively develop others within their own organization is apparent. One needs to understand accountability, responsibility, legitimacy, effectiveness and efficiency while representing the organization as a whole. We know these terms as the pillars of public administration. Instructing, leading, teaching and setting the example for your future replacement can be part of your legacy as you transition.

Letting go; The best thing an outgoing administrator can do is to let it go. There is no value in validating your ego by contacting your past organization to see how the new boss is doing—in the hopes an employee will say, “I wish you were still here.” Organizations will continue without their prized leader. A well-prepared leader will take an organization to higher levels of productivity and service. Succession planning is the managed act of letting go.


Ygnacio “Nash” Flores
Tracy Rickman
Don Mason

All service as faculty in Rio Hondo College’s Public Safety Department.


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