the importance of succession planning

Jay Clouse leadership, stories

My first major college decision was that I was going to be a comedian. How hard could it be?

Two failed auditions to get onto the improv group later, I decided I belonged on the writing side of comedy, and I found The Ohio State Sentinel. 

The Sentinel had been around for years and was the most popular satirical newspaper at Ohio State. Among many, it was the most popular newspaper period.

We ran a new edition every month. We had a staff of several writers, someone to do layout, someone who made graphics, and another artist who made a special graphic for the back of each edition. Below is the graphic made during Jim Tressel’s tattoo-gate scandal that was made into some popular t-shirts.

The heart and soul of The Sentinel was a guy named Stu. Stu had been around the paper for a while and really knew the process from start to finish. Not only that, he helped lead the group in creating good content, wrote good content himself, got the paper to the printer, and distributed it across campus.Then Stu decided he wanted to leave The Sentinel to start another paper.

The rest of us were left to determine how to move forward. The two most committed dudes left behind, myself and a guy named Random (who now is an epic rap battler), took it upon ourselves to pick up the pieces.

We kept up the pace of meetings…we knew how that worked. We got pieces written, but then we ran into trouble.

Random and I didn’t have a great handle on the print or distribution process. And the longer we waited to figure it out, the more our content lost relevance. Satirical pieces are often timely, and once the time passes, they are no longer relevant.

Our team continued to write, but we never went to print after Stu left. And after failing the team and never going to print, the team broke apart. Random graduated, I left the paper, and the whole thing ceased to exist.

We killed The Ohio State Sentinel. 

And it happened because of poor succession planning. We weren’t properly trained or ready to take on the challenge of keeping the machine rolling.

Since then, I’ve run into a similar challenge with organizations I’ve run. But thanks to that experience, I’ve been able to train successors and see the organizations thrive after I’ve stepped back.

Seeing those organizations thrive after I left is one of the biggest successes and pleasures I’ve experienced.

And that came as a direct result of previous failure.


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