Corporate Succession Lessons From The Death Of Queen Elizabeth II
Commentary From Crisis Management Expert Edward Segal, Bestselling Author of the Award-Winning Book “Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies” (Nicholas Brealey)
The death of Queen Elizabeth II and the immediate succession of her son Charles provide timely lessons from the British monarchy about leadership transition for companies, organizations and corporate leaders.
The Queen’s death at age 96 is another reminder for business executives to have succession plans in place and ensure those plans are updated on a regular basis as needed.
Leadership transitions—whether they are planned or unexpected—can create a crisis for any organization if they are not handled strategically, effectively, and efficiently.
‘A Watershed Moment’
“The death of Queen Elizabeth II, which Buckingham Palace announced on Thursday, is a watershed moment for Britain, at once incomparable and incalculable,” the New York Times reported.
“It marks both the loss of a revered monarch—the only one most Britons have ever known—and the end of a figure who served as a living link to the glories of World War II Britain, presided over its fitful adjustment to a post-colonial, post-imperial era and saw it through its bitter divorce from the European Union,” the paper observed.
Plan For The Inevitable
“King Charles has been planning his entire life to take the throne. He has planned and replanned again and again,” retired U.S. Navy Captain Barbara Bell said via email. Bell is a leadership professor at Vanderbilt University and author of Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life’s Turbulence and Learning to Fly High.
“There is a lesson in that. A succession plan must be a living, breathing entity. We must observe, prepare, and refresh our plans for the next leader to take over. And as CEO, we must be a willing and active participants in our own succession planning. Where is the company now, where is it going or should be going and what type of leader is needed for the future?
“In the Navy, it was always that way for me. While in command, I led and planned for the next commander to take over after me,” Bell recalled.
The monarchy’s succession plan “is codified in efficiency and dictated by centuries of history and traditions,” David Braun, founder and CEO of Capstone Strategic, a mergers and acquisitions strategic consulting firm, said in a statement.
“While companies need not have a minute-by-minute plan, they can learn the power of having ‘the next in line’ ready to go, followed by precision in their announcements and actions. Detailed plans that can be implemented quickly make a big difference in how companies are perceived and how they keep their business moving forward,” Braun advised.
Provide For Smooth Leadership Transitions
“Charles had already been taking on some of the Queen’s engagements this year as her health had become enough of a concern for her to cancel some of her commitments, including the State Opening of Parliament,” CNN reported.
“Both Charles and Prince William had been prioritizing the Queen’s diary over theirs. Both of them had been activated as Counsellors of State, where the Queen delegates her sovereign power for specific purposes, and they were obligated to be even more available for those duties,” according to the cable news outlet.
“This is the greatest lesson for business —be ready and develop a strong bench so that you can act quickly and safeguard a smooth transition,” Amy Clark, chief human resources officer of the Better Business Bureau National Programs and founder of the Growth Minded Leadership group, said in a statement.
She pointed to two examples in the corporate world.
“As part of a long-planned leadership transition, WD-40 groomed Steve Brass to succeed Garry Ridge, who retired as their chief executive officer this week. This is a terrific example of a well-controlled, communicated, and deliberate plan to take the WD-40 into the future.
“Compare this with the emergency replacement plan that JP Morgan Chase had in place and effectively activated in response to Jamie Dimon recovering from a health scare in 2020.
“Two senior JP Morgan executives were prepared and ready to effectively manage the company with confidence until Dimon was ready to return as CEO,”‘ Clark noted.
Carefully Groom Your Future Leaders
Position potential successors as true leaders, not figureheads
Charles “was never positioned as a person who was a leader,” Catherine Rymsha, visiting management lecturer at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said via email.
“The monarchy could have strategically managed his leadership brand preparing for this moment over time, yet failed to position him well in terms of strength or confidence. While he may have the skills and support needed to lead, even the headlines and hearsay over the years saying that the crown may skip him and go to Prince William showed there may be something lacking in his preparedness,” she remarked.
“While this may not be case due to related succession laws set forth by the monarchy, it does show how Prince William is seen as a leader more so than his now reigning father,” Rymsha concluded.
The monarchy no doubt had its plan for how this day would proceed for years. The plan was written, the successor was in place, and now “management” is ready to execute it.
Edward Segal is a crisis management expert, consultant and the bestselling author of the award-winning Crisis Ahead: 101 Ways to Prepare for and Bounce Back from Disasters, Scandals, and Other Emergencies (Nicholas Brealey). Click here to Order the book.
Segal is a Leadership Strategy Senior Contributor for Forbes.com where he covers crisis-related news, topics and issues. Click here to read his recent articles.