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Ken, Cancer & Conversation #7

Updated: May 28


Ken builds a thriving business with an outstanding reputation and name recognition across generations. The business owns a fleet of vehicles and employs about one hundred. Many people are blessed by the business.


From a young age, Ken’s son, Chet, spends his summers working for his dad. He becomes the youngest in the state to earn professional credentials in their industry.


As happens often, life throws Ken a curveball. At 50, his doctor diagnoses him with terminal cancer. He has six months.


After only working in the business for three years, Chet is fast-tracked to take over the business.


As a certified professional in the industry, Chet knows the technical aspects of serving their customers. But he has not been prepared to own and lead the business in his dad’s absence.


Years of succession planning have to be crammed into a few months. Ken and Chet have a lot to do in a short time.


Great succession planning calls for baton handoff at maximum speed. The process can take years. Relay teams win or lose races in the handoff.


It is this poorly executed baton exchange that causes 70% of all businesses to fail in their second generation of leadership.


At twenty-six, Chet has to learn to run the family business in his father’s absence. He has to compress a year's-long process into a few months.


Chet signs a formal agreement with his dad, buying the business and taking the lead.


And then, something unexpected but wonderful happens. Ken beats the cancer!


This allows Chet and Ken to enter step four of my succession planning framework: Effective Baton Exchange. In this step, the founder and new leader both have roles to play.


The Founder

At maximum speed, the founder must let go of the baton.


But letting go of the baton doesn’t mean shrinking back with nothing to do. The founder’s biggest role after the baton passing has begun is to cheer on the next runner. Nothing hurts succession planning more than when one generation of leadership refuses to take on their cheerleading role for the next.

Anticipating and planning for this exchange is a succession planning value. Don’t wait for life to force this exchange at an unwelcome time.


As first generation leadership relinquishes daily leadership, support and encouragement for the second generation builds their confidence, and makes the process positive. This is vital, as the new generation proves themselves and establishes their own leadership style.


New Leadership

One of the most vital roles for second generation leaders is to honor the preceding generation of leadership. Often, this means honoring the founder and allowing them to have a role that maximizes their greatest gifts and abilities.


Questions to answer in conversation seven:

1. How might the founder/CEO/senior leader be elevated to flourish while freeing their successors to run alongside?

2. What is a possible timeline for this elevation?

3. Do all members of the board and leadership know and support the plan for handoff?

4. What are the milestones in place to measure the progress and hold all leaders accountable?


If my content on succession planning captivates you, then you are already light years ahead of most!


Good job!


Harry T. Jones

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