SPECIAL ADVISORY ARTICLES
Passing The Baton: The Last 100 Days
Whether the result of your firm having set term limits or your personally deciding to step down from office, sooner or later every firm leader will be the central player in a leadership transition. It is an issue that many firm chairs and managing partners grapple with . . . when it is time to move on, how do you create a sensible departure plan and manage the transition in a way that enhances your reputation? After all, the last impression you make in your leadership tenure may be the most important to capping your legacy.
Top leadership transitions are the process that occurs between when the announcement is made that you are stepping down and the time before your successor is selected and officially takes office. Once your stepping down is announced, relationships and roles immediately begin to shift, so there are a few things you need to do before any announcement is made:
(In situations where there is not a formal successor identified) Encourage your executive committee to appoint a ‘nominating committee ‘ or ‘transition group’ to actively select your successor, and discuss your appropriate role with both the executive committee and the transition group.
Don Lents, Chairman of Bryan Cave in St. Louis commented, “In appointing a ‘transition group’ to guide the selection of a successor, I think it is important to have someone leading the group who is not himself or herself viewed as a candidate for succession, but is rather respected within the firm both for their fairness, their judgment, and their ‘firm first’ attitudes.”
Determine with your executive committee a clear picture of what needs to be done in the interim period.
“The only thing I would add is the timing issue,” said Leighton Lord, Chairman of Nexsen Pruet in Columbia. “It is tough to take over at the end of the year, so I am trying to move our Managing Partner election to mid-summer. No one should have to deal with compensation issues, new partners and a budget during their first days in office.”
Celebrate your relationships and accomplishments, saying goodbye in ways appropriate to you.
From Ben Adams, Chairman of Baker Donelson in Memphis, “You need to have some things that excite you to sink your teeth into as soon as you can whether practice, bar, industry, civic or other activities, and that do not involve firm management.
Accept that you may have a lot of mixed feelings and discuss them with a trusted colleague.
“I suspect it is difficult to overestimate the impact of this change, and that it is very difficult to be adequately prepared for it no matter how much you may think you are,” explained Don Lents. “As a result, I think it is very valuable to have a clear conception of what you want to do once you step down - - how you will spend your time, and particularly where you will gain your satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.”
Compose your 30-second ‘elevator speech’ to tell people, in a positive way, why you are making the move and to convey your excitement about the future – yours and the firm’s.
Whether you are ultimately resigning your office under the best of circumstances or not, get clear about how you are going to convey it to the world in a way that will place you and your firm in the most positive light. You create the perception of the conditions of your departure with your story. And perception is often the only reality.
Ben Adams added, “If this is your decision, you need to articulate clearly and strongly, at least in private conversations, why it is time for you to step down so that folks don't play up to you and beg you to stay. They will do that both because they fear change and just to stroke you whether genuinely or not. They need to really understand why change is needed if possible, so they embrace it.”
One of the seductions of leadership is that we can easily come to think that we are indispensable or at least that the firm may stumble without us. Every one of us who have ever held a leadership position may maintain some secret fantasy of one day announcing our plans to resign, and then leaving office amidst sorrowful tears and a standing ovation from partners and staff. Things will be different, but in most cases the firm will survive and even thrive without you.
From John Langan, the Managing Partner of Hiscock & Barclay in Syracuse came this confirming observation, “I will not have been a successful leader if I don't bring to bear the same skill and attention to transition as I did to running the place and growing it. Our tendency is to want to appear indispensable so secretly we want the place to stumble when we step down--but true success in leadership is institutionalizing the success of the firm so it can continue thriving no matter who is in charge.”
To read more, download your complimentary copy of Passing The Baton
The sequel to First 100 Days: Transitioning A New Managing Partner, this Monograph will act as your essential guide to ensuring that a smooth succession of leadership takes place. Passing the Baton features unbiased, practical advice and commentary from prominent law firm leaders including:
Ben C. Adams, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Baker Donelson
Angelo Arcadipane, retired Managing Partner at Dickstein Shapiro
Brain K. Burke, Chairman Emeritus at Baker & Daniels
John J. Hern, Chief Executive Officer at Clark Hill
James M. Hill, Chairman Emeritus at Benesch Friedlander
John P. Langan, Managing Partner of Hiscock & Barclay
Don G. Lents, Chairman of Bryan Cave
Wm. Leighton Lord III, Chairman of Nexsen Pruet
Richard Mark, retired President at Briggs and Morgan
Robert F. Millman, Chairman of the Board at Littler Mendelson
Lois Van Deusen, retired Managing Partner of McCarter & English
Raymond J. Werner, Chairman at Arnstein & lehr