Succession Planning Lessons from the NFL
To succeed in the long run, enterprises need to carefully plan and execute transitions to the next generation of leaders. Several NFL teams, led by quarterbacks in their late 30's or early 40's, are facing this challenge.
One strategy, employed by the New England Patriots, is to jettison their established leader. Thus, Tom Brady is now quarterbacking the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a winning season, while the Patriots are struggling with Cam Newton at the helm.This strategy has the advantage of protecting the new leader from competition with and potential sabotage by the incumbent but deprives him or her of potentially valuable mentoring.
In contrast, the Miami Dolphins, led by veteran journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick coming off a good season, drafted highly rated quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. When Tagovailoa was injured and Fitzpatrick returned to the starting role, he acknowledged his placeholder status. Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick rose to the challenge, and played exceptionally well in the starting job while developing a close mentoring relationship with Tua. Despite Fitzpatrick's performance, the Dolphins decided to start Tua after the bye week. Unfortunately, Fitzpatrick learned this through the grapevine. Despite acknowledging he was heartbroken at the decision, Fitzpatrick showed he was a team player and pledged to support Tua in his debut.
To make such a relatively seamless transition possible, organizations should:
- be forthcoming with the incumbent leader and the organization about the succession plan;
- enlist the incumbent's assistance in preparing his or her successor; and
- acknowledge and reward the inumbent's contribution to a successful transition.