March 2019

Dear Clients and Friends,

If you’re reading this, you’re either leading your firm or would probably like to be leading it someday.

Effective leadership is the single most crucial asset a firm must have to succeed. Firms that need money can borrow; firms without enough business can boost their marketing; but firms that lack effective leadership—today or in the future—are in for big trouble.

We encounter firm after firm where an impending leadership succession crisis becomes the chief catalyst for developing a strategic plan.

If your firm has no leadership succession plan, you are not alone. The recovery years since the recession have been good to our industry. Relatively high sustained profit levels and their commensurate rewards have made many firm leaders feel confident—sometimes overly confident—in their own leadership abilities. That feeling can contribute to their perception that nobody else can do their job. If you are the leader of a successful firm, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you think of yourself as indispensable? If so, why? Is it because you lack confidence in the next generation of leaders?
  • Is the next generation of leaders in your firm (assuming there is a next generation of leaders) at least as qualified for the job as you? Are they entrepreneurial, business-savvy? If not, why not?
  • What is your plan for continuing to improve the firm beyond your own tenure?

The longer a leader waits before identifying and grooming his or her successor(s), the larger the apparent “leadership gap” looms, and the fewer the viable options. We see too many firms that experience a sort of “reverse Darwinism.” While a hesitant leader agonizes over who, if anyone, may be capable of filling his or her shoes, the most capable and ambitious of the potential future leaders leave to join competitors. Instead of “survival of the fittest,” we see the fittest departing for greener pastures.

As a leader, what can you do?

  • Wherever you are in your career, take a broad and open-minded look at the capabilities of others within your firm.
  • Search for performers who exhibit signs of leadership talent, and help them develop their abilities.
  • Within your firm’s strategic plan, give those potential leaders a chance to show their stuff (and build their buy-in) by helping to develop the firm’s long-term vision, then assign them a role in implementing the plan.
  • First share, then delegate, some of your leadership authority. Let the future leaders take on more until they are ready to take over. That’s the way to achieve leadership continuity—and avoid a leadership succession crisis.

Leadership continuity is a make-or-break proposition for every firm. If you have thoughts about this important and very strategic topic, we’d love to hear from you at

Ray Kogan