While recently searching the internet, I came across an article in the Buffalo News discussing the lack of succession plans for business ownership after the founder retires or dies. The article highlighted the impact of the lack of succession planning on businesses especially Black owned businesses pointing out that of the 2.1 million Black owned businesses, less than 15% have a viable succession plan. As a result, many Black owned businesses will either close or transfer ownership outside the family upon the retirement or death of its owner. This is tragic.
Although the article focused on business ownership, the fact is that it could have been written about most institutions in the Black community especially our leadership. Many of today’s Black leaders got their start in the Civil Rights Movement and post Civil Rights era. These once young robust leaders are now over 70 and 80 years old. While most are continuing to do a wonderful job, the communities in which they represent are vulnerable to outside attacks, re-districting to dilute the Black vote, and the lack of a succession plan for when these leaders are no longer leading.
Granted, efforts to groom future leaders often face the same barriers that business owners face in their efforts to get their children, grandchildren or younger prospective owners interested in taking over their business—apathy! However, one of the major reasons new leaders are not being groomed is the belief held by many leaders that succession planning in some way cedes their current power. In other words, many leaders fear that younger mentees may not only bring a different way of doing things, but may overshadow them or in some case highlight their deficiencies.
There is a saying that when we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Not having a succession plan almost always guarantees failure. There are a number of once worthy organizations that steered Black America through turbulent times that have either dissolved or face dissolution, not because they are no longer relevant, but because there was no planned transfer of leadership. Of the civil rights and post civil rights organizations that managed to survive, many are currently holding on by a thread, and are no longer known for their effectiveness that once defined them, but for the bickering and cat fights among its “leaders”.
Given the efforts to repeal just about every civil rights’ gain Black Americans have made, it is time that we as a community take the future of our leadership more seriously and not leave it to chance. We must not just identify future leaders but invest in efforts to groom them for leadership. Leadership development is something we all can play a part in. It involves nothing more than investing in the lives of our young.
Here are 6 ways we can develop our future leaders:
- Recognize that every young person is a future leader
- When attending national conferences, take a young person with you
- Pay the membership fee for a young person to become a member of the NAACP, Urban League, National Council of Negro women or other leadership and advocacy organizations
- Be willing to sponsor a young person who is attending college. Contributing as little as $5.00 a month can make a difference in the young person’s life. If for no other value than it shows someone cares.
- Encourage your elected leaders to mentor and groom at least one young leader
- Make leadership succession planning part of your community’s agenda