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Gut Check Time for Don

Updated: May 28

Don is having twelve conversations about succession planning with key players in his business. After ten conversations over ten months, he has learned a lot.

Guided by a more experienced friend, he has limited the number of people in the conversations and worked hard to have the right people in the room (read here).

It has been months now, and it is time to have a “gut check.” A gut check is where you do an honest assessment of your succession planning up to this moment. It is important to get this assessment from different perspectives. It is common for first-generation leadership (founders) to have a totally different perspective than their successors. Without a gut check, it is possible that no progress is being made, and the founder is clueless.

Steven Covey imagines going to an eye doctor for help with eye problems.

After briefly listening to your complaint, he takes off his glasses and hands them to you.
“Put these on,” he says. “I’ve worn this pair of glasses for ten years now and they’ve really helped me. I have an extra pair at home; you can wear these.”
So you put them on, but it only makes the problem worse.
“This is terrible!” you exclaim. “I can’t see a thing!”
“Boy, are you ungrateful?!” he chides. “And after all I’ve done to help you!”

This scenario happens in succession planning all the time when the first-generation leader sees and plans things totally differently from his successors. Both live frustrated. And the future of the business is compromised.

Seventy percent of businesses never make it to their second generation of leadership. This is often because an honest assessment of their succession planning is not done.

It is supremely important that the founder and his successors agree on whether the business and their planning are diving, surviving, striving, or thriving. A gut check facilitates this.


When founders build a team of successors who are mere “yes” people, the business is diving. It can happen when the most competent leaders, 10s, are forced to live under the domination of 5s and 6s. In that scenario, the 10s will leave. When founders will not get out of the way, their most talented team members will often leave.

When your best talent leaves and your least talented people stay, your business will dive.


When your business is in surviving mode, it is only one misstep from diving. This often means working for today, spending no energy, time, or effort evaluating your business’s future impact without you. You are treading water. Surviving today is your everyday goal.


In the striving mode, you are making progress in building a business for the future, but it is small. You are busy serving customers, dealing with vendors, employees and paying bills. And you are investigating what the business might look like without you.

It may be that in this phase you are working 99% of the time and you devote 1% of your time to succession planning. But, there is a danger in this phase. The clock is ticking and the longer you wait, the more critical the planning process becomes.

Here, the six-step Cultivating Impact Succession Planning process is critical.


Your business is thriving when there is a plan for its success in your absence. This involves having a plan with milestones that all the stakeholders agree with. There is a timeline, with a checklist and an effective outside resource has been engaged to help you along.

What mode is your business in? Diving? Surviving? Striving? Thriving? A serious gut check initiates healthy conversation and planning.


What are the limiting factors that keep you from breakthrough to the next level?

How well is the founder embracing the reality of their inevitable exit from their role?

Let me know where you are. I want to know your story. The impact of your business deserves to be preserved in your absence.

Harry T. Jones

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