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Three Lessons Dick Clark Taught Us About Succession Planning

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Like millions of Americans on Monday night, I watched Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve to count down to the new year as the ball dropped in Times Square. Of course, it wasn’t the same show as in decades past because Dick Clark passed away last April. But, it was still Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest. And, as the title of the show implies, among his many other accomplishments, Dick Clark left a world class lesson in leadership succession planning.

As this article in Billboard magazine explains, Dick Clark built a team of professionals who worked with him for years and this New Year’s Eve was their first without their long time leader. One of the newer members of the team was Ryan Seacrest who Clark recruited in 2006 to co-host the show after he had a stroke that kept him off the air in 2005.

In the years that followed, Clark and Seacrest co-hosted the show with Seacrest handling most of the on-air segments and Clark counting down the last few seconds until the new year. This year, with plenty of tributes to Dick Clark along the way, Seacrest hosted solo.

While the New Year’s Eve show situation is unique, there are a number of lessons that leaders can learn from what Dick Clark left in place and how he did it.

First, no leader is indispensible – not even Dick Clark on New Year’s eve. Clark understood that and as Seacrest said on-air just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, Clark regularly said to him, “Seacrest, the show must go on.” Clark recognized that he wasn’t going to be around forever and made sure that his ring in the new year production was poised to go on without him.

Second, build a great team. As the Billboard article makes clear, Clark assembled a team of the best people in the business to produce and improve the show year after year. A leader is only as good as his or her team. The mark of a great leader is that the team can keep going when the leader leaves the scene.

Third, hire and position great talent. There aren’t many people around who are as skilled at live television hosting as Ryan Seacrest. With all of his years in the business, Dick Clark understood that better than anyone. Hiring Seacrest for the co-hosting role was a fairly obvious move. What Clark did masterfully, though, was passing the mantle of his duties onto Seacrest in the most public of ways over a five year period. When the inevitable finally occurred and Clark passed away, the transition to Seacrest felt perfectly appropriate and natural.

So, here’s to Dick Clark and all the new years he rung in. In his last years, he showed a lot of grace and courage by going on the air every December 31. He also taught us some lessons about how to make sure your organization continues on when you leave. Nice work, Dick.

Happy new year everyone!

Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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