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In business, transitions are like getting ready to climb a rock wall. You’re either going to take one wrong step and fall like a stone, or you’re going to reach the peak. There is no in-between.

And transitioning to the next leader makes the stakes even higher, locking the company into a three-to-five-year window from which it will move to the next level.

Depending on how high up on the org chart the transition is, choosing the wrong person causes damage that will then take even longer to turn around—yes, I said “turn around” because by the time this poor decision is corrected, you’re usually circling the bowl.

A mistake at the top, for instance, will cause the company to lose a decade of growth. I’ll say it again…a DECADE!

So how do seemingly smart individuals make such boneheaded mistakes? What is it they do or do not do to blow such an important phase of a successful company? Here are a few I’ve seen over the years:

Overlooked inside talent – Too often leadership or the Board of Directors want “new blood.” But what is the message to those within the organization who have paid their dues over the years to move up? (Let the exodus of talent begin.) Besides, it takes a long time to forge internal relationships, and unless there’s a major shift in the industry or the company is in trouble already, staying the course is often best. Which leads to the next bullet:
Forgot that culture rules – Great companies have cultures so thick you can almost cut them with a knife. You either fit or you don’t, and strong cultures have a way of expunging those who are either in the wrong spot or don’t belong. And trust me, those who stay will expunge all who don’t fit no matter the level.
Rushed into it – This isn’t flipping a switch. Great transitions take three to five years before becoming official. Leading a company is about nuance, and that comes from knowledge and understanding gained over years of exposure to people and situations. That takes both time and mentoring, and who better to mentor than the person whose chair they’re taking one day?
Went for the splash effect – This isn’t a PR play (unless the company is already in freefall). This is about how the company runs long after the adulation associated with PR wears off. Great transitions should be boring.
Stayed with it too long – Your gut tells you it was a mistake long before you make the needed change. Remember, those team members who have stayed through this debacle knew it was a mistake long ago too and are now just waiting on you to do the right thing—so do it. Hey, a cardinal sin in business is not trying stuff…another is sticking with that poor decision too long.

Stay in business long enough, and we all transition at some point. Let’s make sure to get it right the first time.

Dwain – CEO Rider

As always – These are my thoughts, I could be wrong. So, if you disagree or simply want to add to it, please do so. I look forward to the conversation.

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