Insights for Leaders

The Final Test: Succession

“The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men the conviction and will to carry on.” — Walter Lippmann

In 2000, after 24 years of growing Home Depot to $46 billion in revenues, founders Arthur Blank and Bernie Marcus began to see their most significant oversightthey never prepared leaders inside the company to replace them. Looking back, Mr. Marcus observed: “Because Arthur and I were always there, our people never developed the talent they need to run the companyOur presence created this wall.”

Jim Collins writes in How the Mighty Fall, “Leaders who fail the process of succession set their enterprises on a path to decline. Sometimes they wait too long; sometimes they never address the question at all; sometimes they have bad luck and their chosen successor leaves or dies….and sometimes they just flat out pick badly.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders tackle the complex challenge of succession planning, realizing it is the ultimate and final leadership test.

The Will to Prepare

“The will to win is important but the will to prepare is vital.”– Joe Patterno

A football team would not think of taking the field without first reviewing their game plan. Yet people and organizations routinely “hit the field” with no goals or plan.

Preparation becomes even more essential when coordinating multiple people.  Walt Disney understood this and disclosed, “Of all the things I’ve done, the most vital is coordinating the people who work with me and aiming their views at a certain goal.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders prepare their teams by clarifying plans and targeting well-defined, shared goals.


“Good strategy involves the clear-headed thinking about the intersection of three critical ideas: what makes money, what we are good at and what we stand for.” — Jim Collins, Good to Great

Jim Collins explains that as you discover these three critical ideas, it will bring an elegant simplicity to your thinking that brings clarity out of complexity and facilitates excellent decision making. These are some of the many benefits of good strategy.

The word “strategy” derives from the Greek word strategos, which refers to a military commander leading his men forward in a planned and coordinated way. Strategos conjures up the image of a general in the war room surrounded by his top officers, looking at the battlefield and mapping out their plan for victory.

The Bottom Line: Leaders take the time to discover good strategy knowing it is critical to advancing their organization at the correct pace toward a meaningful vision with an integrated plan.

Goals vs Wishes

“The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.” – Lee Iacocca

A Harvard study done years ago among the most extraordinarily successful found they shared one simple practice: they wrote their goals down on paper

Goals that are not written down are just wishes.  When goals are written down, the goal setter establishes commitment and a framework for measurement, accountability and learning.  Master sales trainer Zig Ziglar writes, “A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

The Bottom LineLeaders commit their goals in writing and frequently refer to them to help propel them toward their vision.

Indispensable Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — Abraham Lincoln

Leaders take time to sharpen the axe before they start swinging at the trees. They prepare and plan before they go into action. They also understand that planning is of no value unless it results in action. Or as Peter Drucker put it, “Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.”

Dwight Eisenhower said, “Plans are useless but planning indispensable.” The planning process is critical to success — it is where the preparation for the battle takes place. Likewise, a business that does not take time to plan is daily going into battle unprepared and setting itself up for chaos and defeat.

The Bottom Line: Leaders invest time in planning and they work their plans.