[November 22, 2013] Fifty years ago today in 1963, US President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The nation was shocked and grief stricken. Nevertheless, there was an orderly and peaceful leader transition to the new President, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Organizations transition senior leaders for a variety of reason. While it can be a good thing when replacing an ineffective leader, transitions always involve disruptions and inefficiencies. This is unavoidable.
The issue is how quickly can the new senior leader gain both the trust and confidence of key players and ensure the organizational bureaucracy re-orients on its mission. Part of the success is based on whether the organizational has specific procedures ready, the speed of transition, and the qualities of the new senior leader.
There are great risks in speedy transitions and these risks must be methodically managed by experience leaders. Some organizations, like US military and railroads, plan carefully for leader transitions and frequently rehearse leader disruption. They both also rotate leaders every few years further reducing unexpected disruptive effects.
The lesson for all organizations, teams, business, etc., is to have some transition procedures and practice them periodically. Risks specific to the organization should be identified as part of the mitigation plan. For example, some senior executive leader transitions occur simultaneously with many other senior leaders departing.
Other national leader transitions can lead to disruptions far beyond the immediate organization. The 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand set off a chain of events that would lead to the beginning of World War I.
The US has detailed, rehearsed procedures for political leader transitions. On November 22, 1963, President Johnson was sworn in as the 36th President of the United States.