Close up shot of crisis stamp on a depression graph

How do we imagine the unimaginable and plan for what we cannot conceive?

Push ourselves as we might, it is not possible to predict the future. But we do know the following:

  1. Markets will change
  2. New technology will emerge
  3. Leaders will depart

We know these things will happen but we don’t know when. Yet, many companies act as though they have the luxury of time. Wait and see.

The conversations I have with senior executives have a startling characteristic in common. That is, they nearly always ignore what they cannot predict. They can plan like crazy, down to a gnat’s eyelash for what they know. But these same, smart people, do little if they can’t put something on a timeline. For example:

Most often we merely nod to talent loss risk.  

CEOs will say: “I’m planning to retire in 2 years,” “I’m not sure when I’ll leave,” or “I’m leaving sometime in the next 4 to 5 years,” as though their wishes are the decision criteria.

The wishes of a leader are information, not the driver of a decision. Share on X

What’s missing in most companies? Consideration of the following:

  1. What if the leader becomes seriously ill?
  2. What if the leader dies?
  3. What if the leader needs to step aside?
  4. What if the leader picks a fight with the board, a key customer, or supplier that cannot be resolved?

Companies don’t take other risks so lightly. Why this one? There are several reasons. First, it is hard to fathom. Second, it feels creepy to talk about the demise of someone we consider a colleague. Third, the risk of a top leader leaving suddenly is small. True. But this is a low probability/high cost scenario.

What other low probability/high cost risks do you manage? Why is this different?

The sudden departure of a CEO needn’t lead to a crisis. If it does, it may be forgivable, but that is not a strategy.

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