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When to Pass the Reigns; a Page from Coach Lloyd Carr's Playbook

lloyd-carr.jpgMerrill Lynch recently provided us with a perfect example of poor succession planning. As more and more baby boomers go into retirement in the next decade -- with some staying on board but taking a back seat -- organizations will need to learn from failures like this. After leaders put their plans in place, then comes the hard part: knowing when to step aside.

All too often leaders fail to acknowledge when they can no longer deliver. Maybe hubris is to blame, or perhaps it's a lack of faith in their companies' future leaders. One leader knew when to bow out gracefully: Lloyd Carr. After 13 seasons as head football coach at University of Michigan, Carr announced his departure, explaining:

...I still have a great passion for the game, for the players and for the competition. But I also know that there are some things that I don't have anymore, and so it's time.
Fast Company blogger John Baldoni summarized the lessons you can take from Carr's example:
  1. Be a leader. Carr frames stepping down as a matter of succession. "I think one of the most important things a leader can do is know when it's time to let somebody else to lead." He added, "That's the right thing to do. Because it's a hard job." Make no mistake Carr has spoken often of how much he enjoys coaching, especially the preparation that goes into molding a game plan and then putting players on the field to execute it. But sooner or later, leaders must put the passion aside for the greater good. That's what Carr means by saying it is time for him.
  2. Think legacy. Carr leaves with a 75% winning percentage, among the highest of all active football coaches. His team won five Big Ten titles and one National Championship. More importantly, for coaches like Carr, he has left a legacy of boys becoming men. His players love him as he loved them. Some like Tom Brady have become successes in the NFL. The vast majority, however, never played football again yet they got their degrees and got on with their lives as employees, parents and contributors to their communities. To a player, especially those Lloyd has disciplined over the years, attest to his ability to mold character by holding them accountable to their team, their University and themselves.
  3. Have a life. Lloyd considers himself fortunate to have his health, his family, and many friends. He also has a number of outside interests. As coach he has been active in the Ann Arbor community, in particular helping to fundraise for a new children's hospital. He also established an endowed scholarship for women athletes. He will remain at the University with a position in the athletic department. For as all-consuming as coaching can be, Carr never let it consume him.
(Lloyd Carr image courtesy of Bobby Alcott Photography, cc 2.0)
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