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Making a success of succession

THE question: ‘Whose shoes do I fill’ has popped up every time I have taken over a new role.

When I founded my business in 1989, I wondered if I should fill the shoes of my father, who ran a very successful business for many years. Or should I fill the shoes expected by my clients? Or by my staff? Or by my bankers? Or by my business adviser? Well, I tried them all. Despite much pinching and squeezing, none of them has ever fitted me.

A few years ago, I became seriously ill. Faced with the choice of struggling on trying to fit into all these shoes, or taking a break for a while to find my health again, I decided to take a break. My search for health began with medical challenges.

Over some months these were all diagnosed, and I was left with the daunting prospect of several years of healing. At least I knew what to do about it physically.

Then those shoes started to appear before me again. How could I heal myself from the inside so that I would know which shoes to fill, and remain healthy?

My daughter suggested that I see her life coach. With some trepidation I found myself knocking on the door of someone I had never met and with whom I would share my deepest fears. I need not have worried – she took me in and listened without judgement. Thus began my journey into the true power of coaching.

My coach took me through those stories I had never shared with anyone – and those that I had shared, only to find ridicule or derision.

For each one she listened and encouraged, always helping me to see the true value of myself and the path for which I am actually made; to make my own decisions and to stand by them.

Now, a wonderful part of my work is coaching. My clients teach me about myself and give me the opportunity to walk alongside them for a little. Their trust in themselves grows as we journey together. I take the greatest joy when each of them can stand up and say to the world ‘I am’, and that is enough.

One such client is Digby Scott. Digby took over the role of president of the WA Chapter of the International Coach Federation from me late last year.

At that time I had been coaching him for about six months and he was ready for the challenge. Even then, there was the question: ‘Whose shoes do I fill?’

p Digby Scott

TAKING the baton is the easy part. Knowing what to do with it is the challenge.

When I was given the opportunity last year to step up to the leadership of the International Coach Federation, I was torn between trying to adopt a leadership style similar to my predecessor and developing my own approach.

The first option is the easy way out, and one that many may be tempted by. Typically, the previous leader has notched runs on the board and gained the trust of those in the team.

In my case, Wendy achieved this in fine style. Her shoes were, to me, looking very large indeed. My initial efforts in the role were laced with ‘Wendy-isms’. Needless to say, it was hard work.

Authentic leadership needs an authentic leader. In other words, a real leader behaves in accordance with who they are. Trying to replicate the idiosyncrasies of others, however admired, is like trying to fit into shoes that have been worn by someone else. They might look fine on the outside, but walk a mile in them and you’ll be very uncomfortable. Your effectiveness will be limited and you’ll limp along.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t learn from the leaders who have gone before us. In fact, we are well advised to learn the territory that they have called their own. The key is to take this information on board and to assimilate it into our own natural leadership style.

Having Wendy Campbell as my coach during the transition period of ICF leadership has been crucial to my development as a leader. With Wendy as my sounding board I have explored and developed my own leadership style and built my confidence. For example, I’ve learnt that while consensus is important, someone has to make the final call. Previously, I’d ask people what they thought should happen and hope that we’d all think the same way. Now I’ll take that information on board and make a quick decision. The results? We get more done and people feel a sense of progress.

And whose shoes do I fill? Well, mine of course.

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