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10 Signs Your Founder Sucks at Succession“Do not go gently into that good night; rage, rage against succession.”

Some Founders enjoy being “king of their world” too much and they're not going away anytime soon.

Here are 10 signs that a Founder is not going to buy into succession:

  1. Poor Say/Do ratio: What they say about succession compared to what they do shows they're not even close to taking action.
  2. “Yes, but” every suggestion: They consistently point out why each succession plan won’t work, instead of looking for ways to make them work. 
  3. Don’t initiate discussions about succession: Those who resist succession rarely initiate a discussion about stepping down, much less provide action steps with a time line.
  4. People are afraid to bring up succession to them: These Founders are often domineering by nature, which intimidates employees.  Why in the world would people risk annoying them?
  5. Work is their life: They don’t have any hobbies or anything that produces the same adrenaline rush as the power they wield at work.  One Founder said, “When you go from being somebody to being anybody, it’s the same as being nobody.” 
  6. Work is their family: They are usually not capable of giving their undivided attention to their children or spouse.  Work is their priority.
  7. Won’t listen at work: They won't listen to anyone who brings up succession.  They throw the focus back onto the bottom line and challenge people with the goal of changing topics.
  8. Overcompensated: They are frequently overcompensated for the value they bring to the company.  These Founders often have a fear of losing these perks and their prestige if the company is turned over to others.
  9. Increasingly more irritable: The more they realize they don’t truly deserve what they’re paid, the more irritable they become.
  10. They have fearful aggression: The more fearful Founders are that their real lack of competence with regard to current realities will be exposed, the more aggressive they become in order to protect themselves.

Such a person, especially if they are a domineering figure, can put their company at risk in a couple of ways. 

First, other promising employees will be tempted to go elsewhere.  If that happens, the company will be left with the less than stellar performers.

Second, if the Founder has done a great job of making people believe that the company needs them, others will lose confidence when they finally do leave (think Steve Jobs and Apple).

So what should other promising employees, who could be the future of the company, do?

They should (respectfully) confront the Founder with the following:

  1.  “How high a priority is and how committed are you to succession planning?”

  2. “Please offer a succession plan of action that assigns role responsibilities to people and a timeline.”

  3. “If you are truly committed to succession, do I have your permission to seek out resources within and outside the company to make that succession a success?"

If you are a Founder, what can you to do to make your exit more tolerable? 

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