Steve Jobs has been on a medical leave of absence from Apple since early this year. As I’m writing this, he just announced that he was no longer able to carry out his duties as CEO of Apple. It is sad news when anyone has to give up their passion and, in his case, face an unknown demon–at least unknown to the public–within his body.
Jobs has lived to make everyone’s lives easier and fix problems you didn’t know you had such as carrying around a cell phone, camera, music player and laptop separately. This techno geek has a following that rivals the greatest professional sports players, and, yet, he and they are mere mortals with some parts that cannot be fixed or replaced.
Can Apple maintain its top innovative-follower status without Steve Jobs? Jobs co-founded Apple and has been kicked out and brought back in. Apparently, the powers that be at Apple discovered he had something no one else was going to deliver. It’s been said that Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook has the skills to run Apple. He’s been there and performed the multitude of those skills all along, and he could do very well as CEO.
Jobs brings something beyond skill to Apple. Vision. Leadership. Personality. From the various products’ easy-to-use interface to the sleek, many colored designs, Apple is about bringing technology to the layman and allowing you to give it a look that matches your personality. Much of Apple’s success centers on personality, namely that of Steve Jobs.
Many true leaders have a strong personality like his, and entire organizations can get swept up in that until it becomes a brand. But branding a company or credit union around a single person is a bad idea. Organizations have the luxury if run properly, but when known synonymously with a particular person, they can fall ill along with that person.
Succession planning is even more critical when you have an organization running on this type of branding. Stuart Levine of Stuart Levine & Associates wrote in an opinion piece for us recently that although 90% of board members think it’s important, only 30% are prepared for their CEO’s departure, according to a Korn Ferry survey. “This increases risk and costs to the organization and results in lost investor confidence,” he wrote.
When you read investor think member. After all, they are who credit unions exist to serve. And member trust is allegedly one of credit unions’ hallmarks.
In succession planning, particularly for a public spot like CEO, credit unions need leaders. They need people with the basic financial and management skills, but what credit unions as a whole really need are leaders. Leaders don’t make sure forms are filled out in triplicate; true leaders have the ability to discern what can be delegated. Leaders lead. It’s important to step behind the teller station or take some member service calls once a month, but leaders cannot lead if they’re mired too deeply in the day-to-day details.
In succession planning, certain skills need to be developed without question, but a lot of people are capable of performing the day-to-day functioning of an organization. The potential for true leadership must be recognized and cultivated. Real leaders won’t feel threatened that they are training their replacements because true leaders understand that the organization is bigger than themselves.
Other times credit unions look for leaders outside their organization, and that’s necessary too. Maybe there’s a banker or corporate executive the board has its eye on, following his or her career. There’s a world of qualified executives out there who may not even know what a credit union is today. That doesn’t make them any less qualified to run a credit union provided 1) they can lead people and not just manage them, and 2) they can mesh their knowledge and skills with the credit union philosophy.
For example in The Dynamic Path, author Jim Citrin explained how Hall of Fame Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach was able to turn his leadership abilities on the field and determination to have a fall-back plan in case of injury (even Staubach knew he wasn’t immortal) into a successful commercial real estate business. In 2007, after 30 years, Staubach stepped down as CEO of The Staubach Co., which at the time according to Wikipedia was a multi-billion dollar business with 70 offices worldwide. It was sold in 2008 for $613 million.
The point is real leaders with a variety of backgrounds can learn and adapt in diverse situations, including at credit unions. And just as real leaders work hard (and smart) for their careers, boards and management exhibit true leadership when they’re prepared to replace a perfectly good leader with another should the need arise.