Sunday, January 10, 2010
Opening kickoff for the NCAA football National Championship game. It doesn't get any more exciting than that. And for my daughter and I (and 94,000+ of our closest friends) it was time to get it on. The pre-game festivities, the talking heads, and the hype were all finished. It was time to play the game. #1 Alabama versus #2 Texas for all the marbles!
Who knew that 5 offensive plays into the game, the depth of Texas would be tested at the most critical position? Yes, after 5 plays Colt McCoy, the winningest quarterback in college football history, was done. Bring in the backup -- an 18 year old with almost no meaningful game experience. It would be his job to snap on his chin strap and try to lead his team to victory.
Let's talk leadership here, can we?
It was clear that this young man was not prepared for the situation he was in, on that night, on that stage. He was not familiar with the game plan. He had not been given enough repetitions to be able to step in and lead his team. He was not ready for the speed of the game nor the decisions he would have to make along the way. (Mind you, I don't think any backup freshman quarterback with limited game experience would truly be ready to step up in that situation.)
It certainly got me thinking about how well prepared my team is to lose a key leader. Similarly, I am not sure I have done all I need to do to set them up for success in my absence. Do we have depth in critical positions? Could the second-teamers step in and would they be able to maintain momentum and accomplish the mission?
Succession planning is hard! Here are 4 things to think about regarding preparing back-ups for success:
1. Backups need exposure to the game plan. Do we include 2nd and 3rd tier leaders when we establish strategic plans and set goals...or just the "inner circle" leadership team? The more we can expose others to the sessions in which we establish our plans and strategies, the more likely they will be comfortable with executing them should they be thrust into leadership roles. Things like vision, strategies, goals and objectives must be shared with the entire team so that everyone is prepared to step up when called.
2. Backups need game experience. Are we empowering our 2nd and 3rd tier team members to truly be leaders when they are in leadership position or do we just ask them to hold down the fort? Do we give people the chance to truly be in charge when we go on vacation or are out of the office or do they just keep the seat warm? Do we provide true, meaningful leadership opportunities to lower-level team members such that they can establish "muscle density" on things like calling plays (communicating orders and instructions), reading defenses (decision making under pressure), and scoring touchdowns (accomplishing the mission).
3. Simulations and contingency plans must address the loss of key leaders. Most of our "what if" drills involve things like the loss of a key customer, the failure of an important system or piece of equipment, or the interruption in the supply chain. But "what if" we lose a key leader? Are we prepared? Have we practiced under those conditions? Have we established contingency plans so that we can quickly integrate new leaders without losing momentum? Are we prepared to adjust the game plan to be able to operate under the new conditions and still accomplish the mission?
4. We need depth at every position. As leaders, we really do need to look at whether we have single points of failure within our organization. Perhaps we need to start by examining whether our teams are ready to win -- without US! Are we grooming successors and are they ready to step in right away? Similarly, do we have depth at other key positions? A team can be just as challenged with the loss of a lineman or a linebacker as with the loss of the quarterback. Succession planning needs to look across the team and ensure that the team is built to last.
It was a great game. While my team lost, my daughter and I had a blast. We both lost our voices cheering on that freshman quarterback. He did okay, getting better and gaining confidence with each snap of the ball. Who knows how prepared he was for the stage on which he was thrust? I doubt many of us could have pulled off what he did that night, almost leading his team to victory. It certainly highlighted the awesome responsibility we have as leaders to ensure our team has the depth to continue the mission -- no matter who is in charge. That's winning football. And that's -- Leader Business!