In a prior article, I wrote about four elements (or competencies) of emotional intelligence that serve business owners well when involved in transitions. In this article, I look at the flip side: the value of emotional intelligence for successors in business transitions.
Emotional Intelligence for Successors in Business Transitions – And Beyond
Four elements of emotional intelligence—personal agility, empathy, intentional communication and trust building—are competencies that successors can draw upon to facilitate their transition from successor to owner, especially when they grow frustrated with the pace of the transition.
These elements of emotional intelligence are just as important once successors become owners.
No. 1: Personal Agility
Successors who are agile roll with the punches. When things change—and they do multiple times during every transition—agile successors can manage their emotions and behavior. If they cannot, I ask them to remember that they are committed to the destination (ownership of the business) rather than the route they take to get there and not to let change undermine their commitment to the ultimate goal.
No. 2: Empathy
In every transition, there are times when successors become impatient either with a change in direction or the pace at which the owner is turning over responsibilities that successors feel (and may indeed be) ready to handle. When this happens, I ask successors to take a breath and, rather than focus on their own feelings, imagine what the owner is feeling. This person is letting go of a business that they built by pouring all their energy into it, sacrificing time with their families, and reinvesting— rather than spending—excess cash. Taking the time to consider what the transition is like for an owner allows a successor to be more patient and understanding.
No. 3 Intentional Communication
As a coach, it’s fascinating to watch owners and successors talk to each other about important issues without talking about what’s really important. Both parties typically tell me that their communication skills are just fine, except when they aren’t.
I often find that owners and successors are communicating about the what of various issues or actions but not about the why. For example, Olivia Owner tells Sam Successor that she’s decided to increase the base salaries for the company’s three top salespeople. Sam has no idea that Olivia promised this raise at the employees’ last annual salary review. She recognized that her top people were not far from retirement so decided to reward them for spending more time training a younger cohort of salespeople.
Olivia, as the owner, doesn’t see a need to explain her decision to Sam because she made this agreement before the transition began. All Sam sees is another mountain to climb: the increase in payroll and corresponding decrease in both cash flow and perhaps sales. By failing to discuss her decision with Sam, Olivia missed the opportunity to mentor and teach him about the culture of the company, and how she values and rewards employees. It’s not surprising that Sam jumped to negative conclusions rather than ask Olivia to explain the why of her decision.
No. 4: Trust Building
Owners aren’t just turning over their lives’ work to successors, they are turning over their legacies, the livelihood of trusted employees, and relationships with customers. Empathy helps successors appreciate how difficult that can be. Building trust with the owner and employees who will remain after the transition creates confidence in the successor’s ability to lead.
I often ask successors how owners and other employees (whose loyalty is to the departing owner) can know that they are trustworthy. The fact is, we all think we are trustworthy but how do we demonstrate it? Successors build trust by asking questions and truly listening to responses. They acknowledge the contribution of others and ask for advice. They share their vision for the future of the company with the people who will join them in making that vision a reality.
If you are a successor who is taking the transition journey with the owner of a company you will lead one day, you aren’t in the driver’s seat—yet. You are, however, in control of how you adapt to changes along the way. Practicing these four elements of emotional intelligence pays off both during your transition journey and once you take the wheel.
Please feel free to give me a call if you, as a successor, would like to explore how you can acquire or further develop these elements of emotional intelligence. If you are an owner, contemplating or already taking the transition journey, we can talk about how to identify or cultivate emotional intelligence in successors in business transitions. Sharpening both owners’ and successors’ emotional intelligence skills helps make a transition the best experience for everyone.
Elizabeth Ledoux is a co-author of the award-winning It’s A Journey: The MUST-HAVE Roadmap to Successful Succession Planning, as well as Accelerate Your Entrepreneurial Flight and Understanding the Growth of the Entrepreneur. She frequently speaks to organizations and business owners about challenges and opportunities in private and family business transitions, business and individual growth, and the business succession journey.