7 Key Attributes Making Leadership Succession Planning Easier

November 15, 2018

You feel stuck in your leadership role.  You know it is time to move on, but you cannot with a clear conscience leave your position.  What about the people, the organization?  Who will fill your place?

You know leadership succession planning is a vital part of your role, but you just can’t seem to engage your possible successor and start developing the next generation of leadership.

I guess many of you feel or have felt this way.

The good news is you are not alone or a uniquely bad leader because you don’t have a clear leadership succession plan in place in your organization.

Leadership Succession Planning is not Easy

Creating a leadership succession plan in your organization is no easy task.  Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran emphasize in their book Why Are We Bad at Picking Good Leaders the difficulty in selecting quality people as part of a leadership succession planning program.  They argue that leaders are often faced with the dilemma of having people with the right experience, but who are not qualified to lead. This is one of the main reasons why leadership succession planning becomes a difficult exercise for any leader.

Leadership succession planning is difficult, but not impossible.  Like many other leadership skills, you can learn how to become more efficient in selecting successors.  To help you in this process, Cohn and Moran isolated seven interdependent leadership attributes contributing to leadership success.

Leadership Succession Planning Check List


Definition: Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code or the adherence to moral and ethical principles and the soundness of moral character and honesty.

The first attribute to look for is Integrity.  Integrity forms the cornerstone of the seven attributes. In the absence of Integrity, things rapidly fall apart.  Integrity cultivates trust, which in turn leads to higher performance in organizations.


Definition: The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of other or the identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.

Once you find Integrity, Empathy must accompany it.  Empathy is a critical part of Leadership, since it also cultivates trust and you cannot lead if people don’t trust you.  Empathy creates a sense in the organization of a Leader valuing the needs of the people.  When people get the sense their interests are being looked after, motivation levels generally rise in the organization.

Emotional Intelligence

Definition: Intelligence regarding the emotions, especially in the ability to monitor one’s own or others’ emotions. It is the skill to perceive, understand and manage emotions and feelings.

Emotional Intelligence allows you to make connections between emotional feelings in the organization and the behaviour of people. If you understand the underlying motives of people’s behaviour, it becomes easier to manage them.  You want someone with high levels of Emotional Intelligence as part of your leadership succession plan.


Definition: Unusual competence in discernment or perception or intelligent foresight.

I like the definition of Vision as “intelligent foresight”. It means Vision is not just pie in the sky ideas with no grounding in reality.

You want someone with intelligence, but also with imagination, having an inquisitive mind grounded in reality.  I know this sound like a mouth full, but your successor must create pictures of possibilities for the organization and motivate people to focus their abilities to make it real.


Definition: The ability to judge, or make a decision, or form an opinion objectively and wisely, especially in matters affecting action, good sense and discretion.

Judgement gives you the ability to single out matters of importance, make decisions and take decisive action based on those decisions.

If you can find someone with good judgement, you found someone who can make good decisions.  Good Judgement is learnt through experience.  You can expedite the process of learning good Judgement through a mentoring program.


Definition: The quality of mind or spirit enabling a person to face difficulty, danger or pain without fear.

Following a Vision will bring times of great difficulty and sometimes opposition.  You will have to face conflict and deal with tension in the organization. You need someone as part of your leadership succession planning who has the Courage to deal with and overcome difficulty. Courage means you don’t allow fear to obstruct your ability to make the right decisions.


Definition: A powerful or compelling emotion of feeling.

Leaders have to cultivate strong emotional feelings about the vision for the organization. It is important for you to find someone who can communicate this passion to the rest of the organization.  Passion creates drive and a positive energy acting as a catalyst to form highly motivated teams.

Your job as a leader is to identify successors with potential to become good leaders.  Putting these seven attributes on your tick sheet for your leadership succession plan will make it easier to find the right person.  Where the person has potential but not all of the criteria, it is your job as leader to transfer the necessary skills through mentoring.

If you are feeling stuck in your leadership position, do you think applying these seven criteria will assist you in identifying your successor?

About the author

Joseph Hawking has a passion for people & leadership development and since he discovered his mom’s old typewriter as a boy, have been writing in some form or another. He is part of the Leadership for The International Mentoring Network, where he is a regular Idea Studio Facilitator and Annual IMN Conference Speaker. He believes that the highest form of living is using what you have been blessed with, to add value to other people’s lives. He has been publishing The Leadership Connexion blog since August 2018.