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In the pilot episode of Single Parents , a single mom named Angie Leighton Meester confronts a single dad named Will Taran Killam with a sizable mermaid purse. The mermaid has a serene smile on her face, and a tiny merbaby nestled in her arms. As the leaves change and fall TV settles into its rhythm, the series critics recommended at the beginning of the season has had a few more episodes to find its groove. Single Parents , created by J.

Philbin and New Girl creator Liz Meriwether, is one of those shows, and you should absolutely be watching it. During its glory years, New Girl was equal parts sincere and farcical in the best way. New Girl was a gem, and it is missed.

Single Parents , true to its title, follows an ensemble of parents without partners who band together to help one another deal with all the weird ins and outs of raising small children alone. Killam uses the surplus of energy we saw in him on Saturday Night Live as Will, an earnest try-hard dad who the other parents reluctantly welcome to the friend group. The cast is rounded out by Brad Garrett as conservative, tough-love widower Douglas, Kimrie Lewis as the warm Poppy, and Jake Choi as in-over-his-head year-old dad Miggy. Together these characters are a classic ragtag team. Rory already feels like he could anchor his own show all by himself and have it run from now up through his college years without running out of story opportunities.

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Sure, none of these kids act at all like regular children. They also all get space to become memorable, funny characters that are more than the sum of their parts thanks to a charming cast and clever writing. In his gut, he knows what is going on: the CEO is having trouble letting go of his job. Still, the board expects the designated successor to post impressive results, and the successor himself knows he must make organizational and strategic changes to prepare the company for the time when he will lead it. But without support from the CEO and his team, how can he take charge?

In both cases, the kings eventually found themselves unable to let go after choosing someone to succeed them.


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In modern times and organizations, the succession story plays out with similar themes. For the would-be leader, succession is a time of great excitement and promise, the culmination of a long and arduous climb to the top. For the incumbent leader, succession is a time to confront the passage of time, the end of a career, and even mortality itself.

It is no wonder that relationships between successors and those they hope to replace are so fraught with emotion. If a CEO resists passing the torch, his would-be successor can wage open war to win the top job—but that can get ugly and rarely works.


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  • He may walk away relatively unscathed, but a high-profile failure might make second chances hard to come by. Most boards of directors drop out of sight once the successor is hired; they check in only periodically. Four practices can allay, and even prevent, the problem. Before he accepts the number two position, the successor can learn as much as possible about the CEO to assess his emotional readiness to leave his position. The successor can make it a top priority to maintain regular communication with the CEO.

    He can also develop and utilize a balanced personal advice network to help navigate the strategic and personal minefields of the leadership change. And, finally, he can stay focused on the endgame—that is, on his professional goals, not the emotional traps that surround them. The successor must be responsible for managing the dilemma, because it is he who has the most to lose. The board may take a hit to its credibility, having bungled one of its primary jobs. And many employees stand to suffer if the CEO and the successor battle it out.

    He must own the problem—and its solution.

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    Botched leadership transitions occur with alarming frequency. Disney put Michael Ovitz in place as president in August ; he departed late the next year when his relationship with chairman Michael Eisner soured. A likely heir apparent at Citigroup, Jamie Dimon, exited in And just this past summer, Merrill Lynch president and chief operating officer Herb M. Allison resigned before claiming the top leadership position many thought was his. Looking at records from for thousands of publicly traded companies, we identified 94 that had appointed a new person to the position of chief operating officer that year.

    Of those 94 would-be CEOs, 35 were brought in from outside the organization. This article focuses on the transitions of successors hired from the outside. But what about executives moving up from inside the business?


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    • We found that about half of the internal successors in our study were promoted to CEO within five years compared with about a quarter of the successors who had been hired from the outside. Inside and outside successors do share one challenge. Both must deal with the strong emotions—and inevitable resistance—of the CEO.

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      If the two individuals had any problems before the transition, those conflicts will be accentuated now. If the two executives had no problems, some are sure to develop—and will demand careful attention. But our research and experience strongly suggest that it is, by far, the dominant driver of failed successions.

      Indeed, one of us has served as an adviser to CEOs and their would-be successors during more than transitions in the past 25 years. Even if a company is successful, the board typically wants to bring in a second in command who can meet an anticipated challenge—an emerging technology, for example.

      When the search produces such a leader, the board makes it clear that great things are expected of the designated successor—and fast. And so the new successor plunges in to learn about products, markets, and internal processes. Even for executives with years of experience, the learning curve can be quite steep in the early months; after all, no two companies are identical. At the same time, the successor must learn to operate in an unfamiliar corporate culture.

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      Indeed, he must make a new political system work to his advantage. That means building credibility with people who now report to him—some of whom expected to be named to the job he was hired to fill. Those were the areas that needed attention here, too. The marketing issues were tough enough, but I had to get people to think differently to get things done faster, and to get them to work across departments and functions. That was just brand new to them.

      The Successor of Kakiemon

      In the midst of this intense learning period, the successor must also try to build a relationship with the person he hopes to replace, a process that is riddled with pitfalls. The successor usually avoids challenging the CEO even when he disagrees with him. That reticence is understandable, but it can plant the seeds of trouble. Take the case of the executive who joined a large financial services company as chief operating officer and expected to take over in three years when the chairman retired.

      The chairman had helped shape the industry, had founded the industry association, and had trained several executives who went on to become successful CEOs at other companies. The financial services company was in good shape but had room to improve. It needed to improve the efficiency of its business operations in order to keep costs down.

      In this case, the board recognized the bind the COO was in and helped him resolve it. If the successor is facing new and daunting challenges, so too is the CEO. Indeed, our experience and research indicate that he typically passes through three distinct phases after a successor is designated. That satisfaction can last several weeks or several months, depending on how quickly the successor moves to make changes. When the successor starts shaking things up, however, the CEO enters the second phase—growing discomfort and gradual resistance.

      While he may be happy to have found a successor to whom he can entrust the company, the CEO soon discovers that the cost of a smooth transition is having to give up control. He is confronted with the reality of handing over important decisions to someone who can certainly run the organization well enough but who has a different style and different priorities.

      The CEO must face up to the fact that his successor will run the company differently—and that just feels wrong. He still wants the transition to go forward and tries to hide his defensive reactions, at least initially. As the CEO struggles to retain some control, he also discovers that having a successor requires him to share the limelight in his interactions with the board, stock market analysts, and the press.

      Accepting that shift requires a level of humility that most CEOs are not known for.

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      One CEO we observed relished his high profile. Tensions quickly developed when he hired a COO who was an aggressive change agent. Matters came to a head when the COO was on a business trip. The CEO used the opportunity to change reporting relationships: he assigned the head of IT to report to the chief financial officer, who reported to the CEO.

      Even though the move stirred up tension within the company, it helped the CEO retain the sense that he was the one in charge. Also in the second phase, chief executives begin to confront the question of what to do once they retire. For people who have devoted every thought and energy to the job for many years—and who delight in their identity as CEO—this can be a difficult, even terrifying, consideration.

      Research on retiring CEOs points out that many chief executives of successful companies are anointed heroes by grateful employees or investors. As a result, they come to believe not only that they deserve such praise but also that they are indispensable to the ongoing success of the enterprise. They cannot live without the company that defines them, and they believe that the company cannot live without them. In this context, many CEOs start to ponder the meaning and extent of their legacy.

      They ask themselves what they will be remembered for—and many realize that it might be overshadowed, or perhaps even diminished, by what the new leader is trying to do. His successor, he knew, would likely sell them all to focus the company more on providing services. Similarly, another CEO considered his greatest accomplishment at his company to be the creation of a culture in which employees cared for and respected one another.

      In the name of improving financial results, his successor would surely dismantle it, the CEO realized, to install a more performance-driven atmosphere. Rationally, both CEOs knew their successors had to make the changes; indeed, they had endorsed those changes themselves. A legacy is a deeply painful thing to lose, and emotions can take over.