July 11, 2023

Close to Home: Legacy and Succession Planning Issues

I turned 75 on the 2nd of June this year.

By the evening of the 4th June, I was in my hotel room in Johannesburg at the Sanctuary Mandela (‘A Place of Reflection’) getting ready for my session the next day. I had been asked to facilitate the process of taking stock of the personal leadership journey that a corporate Africa Exco team had been through in their first year at the helm of the company.

The last two weeks of the same month found me deepening the awareness process of this year’s UCT EMBA students.

I must have been looking really old and fragile in June, because in both contexts the issue of it being my responsibility to find someone to take over from me at some stage in the future was raised by the clients!

And then, in my last June teaching session, two EMBA students approached me during the tea break and asked me what I was doing to pass on what they called ‘my unique teaching skills’ to others.

To cap it all, July arrived and I unexpectedly found myself with no corporate work for the rest of the year. (The EMBA Course 3 continues in October…).

Clearly I am being given the message to take the raised issues of legacy and succession seriously!

The picture that heads this blog shows my return from a 4-day Vision Quest I undertook ten years ago. On the last night, spent awake in a specially created Power Circle, I made a pledge to the gods that I would commit to pushing myself and others in service of growth and wisdom on our continent. I said that I would continue to do this work as long as I received invitations for deep and meaningful work.

I start this process this morning and find myself delineating a few initial brief competing thoughts and possible responses.

  1. I reject the responsibility of finding a replacement. My teaching strength is probably that I offer students the subjective experiences and learnings of a wounded and flawed human being. I choose content to fit in with my evolving sense of topic importance. My work journey has been very rewarding, but it arrived at a specific time and context. It is now nearing its end. It is not appropriate to nominate a new ‘Chris Breen.’ Needs and context will inevitably have shifted, and the client needs to assess their own requirements and step boldly in a new direction.
  2. I partly accept the responsibility of suggesting a replacement. I start making lists of outstanding teachers I have worked with or admired. I end up with six names. What now? Rank them? On what basis? Friendship? Then give the names cold to my clients so that they choose? Am I collaborating in allowing the process of reformulating needs to be sidestepped?
  3. I take responsibility for passing on my methodological insights and content choices. I spent many years researching my own teaching practice in a different field (mathematics education) and subsequently wrote articles and presented papers and workshops at conferences. I could draw attention to these articles and spend the next year sharing my ideas of methodology and content to anyone who showed some interest. Maybe I could even plan and run some ‘How I teach Personal Leadership’ workshops to open audiences. Or I could … ?

I pause this list-making exercise, and hear a voice (remarkably like my own) asking, “Yes, that's a semi-interesting starter list, but what really lies at the core of this issue of legacy and succession?”

I circle back to an EMBA session where I highlight the importance of Seriti (the shadow or aura that we cast as we go through life, a shadow that grows through good deeds). This resonates with my inner and outer teaching journey over the years where I have tried to share the insights I have gained as a possible aid to my students on their own unique journeys. Charles Eisenstein speaks of the value of the way that this morphic resonance can have an impact on the world.

I find an initial resting place where the earth beneath my feet is no longer quicksand.

I like the idea that legacy is what others have found worthwhile in learning from my presence in their lives, rather than artefacts or carefully constructed pathways I have forced on them.

And it starts to feel as if a succession plan is actually an obstacle to growth because it smooths over the gift that its absence allows the necessary perturbation for everyone to STOP and take the time to reevaluate current and future needs – looking forward and not gazing backwards?

My response to my clients (and to myself) is becoming clearer. I may be happy to continue teaching where appropriate while it is their task (and not mine) to find a suitable person - not to replace me but to offer them the new learnings that are necessary for this time.

In the meantime, I intend to make my life learnings accessible through:

  • reorganizing my website and so that the current content topics are clearly outlined and appropriate materials accessible;
  • making sure that my best articles and conference papers are archived on my website;
  • exploring new (written and audio) material that explains some of my methodological insights and theoretical roots; and
  • continuing in my remaining years to remain true to my Vision Quest commitment and continuing to accept teaching invitations that allow me to attempt to do deep and meaningful work in service of growth and increased wisdom.

I would love to get your further thoughts on these and other possibilities as direct comments or addressed privately to me at chris.breen@uct.ac.za