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I Thought I Wanted to be CEO

Choosing the CEO of an organization is incredibly important. I want to tell a short story of someone who thought that they wanted to be CEO. Watch the video above or keep reading below to hear some problems that I found within the story and what you can do to prevent this from happening at your organization.

The Story

A CEO knew that he was going to be retiring within the next three years, so he decided that he should formalize his CEO succession plan. He enlisted the help of his board to first come up with the competencies that they would look for in a future CEO.

Then, he decided to have a conversation with his current executives. He asked them if any of them would be interested in developing their skills in pursuit of the potential CEO opening in the future. All of the executives that he talked to said they would be interested. To help the executives develop their skills, he created development plans over the next two years. 

One of the executives thought that she should automatically be the person who gets the CEO position. The reason for this is because the last two CEOs were hired from within and had the most tenure. Now, she had more tenure than all of the other executives, so she was under the impression that she should automatically get the role.

Two years later, when it came time to do the search process, the CEO asked all of the executives who were interested in formally applying for the position. Three of the executives, including the one who thought she should automatically get the position, said that they were interested. The board and an external search firm interviewed the internal candidates and some external candidates, and ultimately an internal candidate was hired but not the woman who thought she would automatically get the position.

Her response to him getting the position was “ Thank God, I really didn’t want to be the CEO”.

Issues in this Story

  1. What motivated her to actually apply for the position if she didn’t really want it? And why was she so confident that she would automatically get the position? She potentially felt pressure since she had the most tenure at the organization. Or maybe she felt pressure from the employees at the organization. Often, employees will want their “favorite” internal candidate to get the position, and she may have felt pressure from that.
  2. Was it the job of the CEO to figure out the motivation of all the internal candidates?
  3. What would’ve happened if she would’ve been the top candidate for the board? What would have been done if she got the position and then realized that she didn’t really want to be the CEO.

This is Actually Quite Common

This actually does happen more often than you may think. I have other examples of organizations where there are executives who feel immense pressure to be the next CEO even though they really don’t want to be. Luckily, many people who really do not feel interested in being the CEO will admit to that and not give in to the pressure.

What You Can Do

  1. Make sure that all of the internal candidates actually know what the roles and responsibilities are of the CEO role. Make sure that they understand what they will need to do, and that they are motivated to do the job. It is common for executives to be interested in developing for the role, but when it comes down to it they have to know whether or not they are actually interested in being the CEO.
  2. Do formal CEO succession planning. It is extremely important for your organization. Some people think it is okay to do informal succession planning – something like coming up with a short plan in your head of who you think may be good. But you really need to do formal succession planning so that you can develop the potential successors. 
  3. Involve a succession planning firm or a search firm in your process. Sometimes these firms can help you identify the people who may be motivated for the wrong reasons.
  4. Ask the right questions during the interview process.

If you are looking for information about how to put together a CEO succession planning process, download our Bench Strength Builder™ below!