Recruiting, Talent

The Key to Successful Succession Planning: What Would Yoda Do?

Effective leaders plan for the future, including for a time when others will step into their roles. Leaders can learn a lot about succession planning from Yoda, the fictional but wise Grand Master of the Jedi Order in Star Wars.

Source: Sailor Anton_Ivanov / shutterstock

Yoda trained many young Jedi, including Luke Skywalker. Building the next generation of leadership in your company is also a must to ensure a smooth succession when you retire or if you should become incapacitated or die. The same is true for key staff members.

Succession planning prepares your business for all contingencies, meaning it will continue running without financial hiccups when you are no longer at the helm. It is important to employees because it boosts morale and security for their future. It increases employee engagement while producing advancement opportunities. It’s a stress reliever for you, in that you can rest assured that business can continue if something unexpected happens to you or other key staff members.

Here is some Jedi wisdom from Yoda to help you on your way:

  • “Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.” Don’t wait to start planning! The future is closer than you think. Succession planning should coincide with exit planning. As you plan for retirement or other contingencies, have a target date for retirement, and consider who will replace you. Name a designated replacement in case of emergency. If you are the business owner, will a family member replace you? Will you sell the business? Will you stay on for a while as a consultant? You must make decisions long before you leave. Review your plan annually and work toward the plan.
  • “Around the survivors, a perimeter create.” That perimeter should include plans for new leadership at all levels, both vertically and horizontally. Many organizations forget the middle managers and the backflow jobs. These are even more important than executive positions because they affect productivity.
  • “Always pass on what you have learned.” Give great information and transparent feedback that is aligned with the needs of each individual about the gaps or blind spots in his or her performance and the needs of the business. This not only improves a person’s current value but prepares him or her to take the reins of greater responsibility in the future.
  • “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” Don’t hoard information. Yes, information is power, but sharing it is essential to growth. Monitor and share revenue, share institutional knowledge, and document important information. As employees are onboarded, share it with them, too, and share their fresh ideas with others on how to grow the business. Don’t keep your people in the dark. View your employees as partners.
  • “You must unlearn what you have learned.” You must constantly remain in training mode at all levels with focused intentions that align with your current and future needs. What are your goals? Where are you lacking? What is coming in the industry? Your aim with training should be to stay ahead of the curve, not to play catch-up.
  • “To be Jedi is to face the truth and choose. Give off light or darkness. Be a candle or the night.” Honestly assess your blind spots or weaknesses, as well as those of your staff. Admit that nobody is perfect and know what the missing characteristic needs are in your organization, then hire others to fill those needs. For example, if you and your staff are naturally hardwired for innovation and risk-taking, balance that with new hires who are more risk-adverse and careful. A good team needs all types. Be sure to train your new hires, too.
  • “You will find only what you bring in.” That means your workplace culture needs to be in tip-top shape to successfully transition to new leadership. Toxic environments will suck the employee engagement—and ultimately, the cash—right out of an organization. If your business is experiencing problems with sexual harassment, bullying, low productivity, high turnover and low retention, missed deadlines, high absenteeism, low employee morale, low employee satisfaction scores, low customer satisfaction feedback, or slumping sales, you likely have a culture problem. How do you address that? Here are principles that work:
    1. Establish a core vision and live by it.
    2. Establish a core mission and live by it.
    3. Ensure you have core competencies that you expect from every team member, such as the ability to collaborate with others, customer focus, and personal credibility.
    4. Ensure you have matching behaviors and hold people accountable to expectations.
    5. Establish and maintain a strong workforce foundation by hiring people that reflect your culture and values.

Succession planning should not be a separate, onetime activity delayed until the end of the CEO’s career but rather an ongoing process that happens naturally throughout the lifetime of an organization. A business that is prepared for all contingencies is one that can remain agile, regardless of what happens to key leaders or with shifting market winds.

Make your plan now and “Feel the force!”

Shelley Smith, CEO of Premier Rapport, Inc., helps business owners and executives find and repair the “culture leaks” in their organizations that prevent them from being as productive and profitable as they can be. Throughout her 30-plus-year career, Smith has developed and implemented plans for large corporations, such as Marriott, as well as for small “mom-and-pop” businesses to advance their strategies and manifest stronger company cultures. She is the author of five books, including Brass Ovaries Own Yours: Master the Mindset, Change the Game and How to Avoid Culture Big Fat Failure (BFF). She has been published in Money Inc., Entrepreneur and many others. She can be found at and Twitter:

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