What does a CEO and a university student have in common?

On the surface, it might seem like a CEO and a university student have little in common. A CEO is among the leaders of a company, a student might not even have a job yet. A CEO is expected to know how to apply their knowledge and skills in significant ways. Many students have not had the opportunity to develop such experience. A CEO can probably afford to buy their own car and house, but a student probably not.

There are many other differences, but there is also one important similarity, especially among CEOs and student leaders.

CEOs and student leaders won’t be in their leadership roles forever. They have a limited amount of time to understand their organisation and identify what impact they want to make. Hopefully by the time they depart, they leave the organisation better off and stronger than when they started.

A perspective on your role

Without succession planning, it can take leaders quite a while to develop the needed perspective on their role.

Succession planning and ensuring a stable transfer of power between leaders is critical for the health of any organisation. Organisations that have frequent changes of leadership can suffer unnecessary interruption to many areas. Strategy can become unclear to team members inside the organisation, to customers and stakeholders outside. Leadership within organisations that only have a mind on now and not also on the future can expose their organisation to issues later on. Internal team members experiences with the new leadership can be confusing.

Depending on the new leader’s ways of handling their entry into the organisation. It is possible that the team members who report to the top can provide stability and even guidance to the new leader while they gain familiarity. Team members often know the organisation and “what’s what” and “who’s who”. There is the risk that team members can push their own agendas and ideals for the organisation, sometimes this is inadvertent, sometimes not.

Without proper succession planning, decisions in the absence of better understanding of ongoing history can be made.

Take this simple step

If incumbent leaders know the most important dynamics within their organisations, they can spend some of their time in leadership reflecting on what they want their successor to know. Keeping things simple is always good, so maybe something each quarter, compile and update a list of “10 things I wish I’d known when I started – future edition”. This can help you keep yourself somewhat objective about what leadership traps might exist within your organisation.

Succession planning can also help you apply a better focus when its time for hand over to the next leader.

People in the workforce often dismiss the experience and perspective of students. The classroom has plenty of limitations to the experience it can provide students. There are also many other aspects within student life that can and do provide them very real leadership experience before they’ve graduated. It’s up to students to opt in to these opportunities as they arise. This is yet again a parallel for when they are working in their career area.

Just like university students, some of our colleagues choose to step up to a challenge, some not.

More in common than not

Many people tend to dismiss the leadership skills that students have developed as irrelevant to the workforce

We recently completed the design and delivery of a leadership program for University of Melbourne’s Masters and PhD students. The thing that consistently stood out was just how motivated and passionate these students were about their leadership roles within their student groups. This is something we see consistently at every university and TAFE we’ve worked with. Strong leadership drive is not amongst all students, but we see it in a healthy majority of those who are involved in our programs.

Something is obvious when we speak to owners and leaders of organisations. The insight about their role and how it sits in the context of their organisation is critically important.

Put simply, these people know the important things about their organisation that can’t be simply written into a manual.

Those in student leadership roles are in a good position to face important organisational leadership issues faced by the largest and most successful organisations in the world. These issues are some of the same that the CEO faces.

Dear all leaders…

Next time you’re faced with a leadership role, look at the opportunity you have to lead your organisation to your best ability when you’re in it. Make the most of the opportunities in the moment for your current role in the organisation. Don’t forget about the significant positive difference you can make to your successor. Think now about what they’ll need to know in order to succeed in their role in the future.

The benefits of succession planning to you might be less than the direct benefits to your successor, but the value to your organisation will be significant, and that’s why you have that role in the first place.