Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Decanal Succession Planning

Succession[by Rick Bales]

Jeff Redding's Faculty Lounge post on The Internal Dean got me thinking about a topic I've never seen discussed: decanal succession planning.

In the business world, succession planning is imperative. Companies have gone from huge and thriving to belly-up in 1-2 years because a charismatic and highly effective leader unexpectedly left or died or became incapacitated. The problem is particularly acute when the departing leader has not been a very good delegator, so the departure leaves a particularly large vacuum at the top.

Even under the best of circumstances, it takes at least 1-2 years for an outsider hired as a CEO to learn the ropes of a new organization well enough to be as effective as her or his predecessor. My experience is that the same is true of becoming a law dean or a university president -- and that the learning curve likely will be even longer if the new dean/president has no prior experience as a dean or president. Similarly, I've seen studies suggesting that a new dean/president doesn't hit his or her fundraising peak until 4-7 years into the job. Again, this is consistent with my experience -- it takes about that long to form the kind of strong, trusting relationships that facilitate large gifts.

For these reasons, I think succession planning is as imperative in academia as it is in business. It has nothing to do with choosing my successor. Indeed, my successor may, for good reasons, be the anti-me, just as in many ways I am very different from my predecessor. But if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, or for whatever other reason had to step down unexpectedly, it's important to have someone who can step in at a moment's notice and hit the ground running. That takes planning, grooming, and a willingness to delegate significant responsibility.


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