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Finding Your Successor: What Traits Do Most Successful Owners Share?

By Darren Cherry

For many owners, one of the most challenging tasks they encounter is finding their successor, especially when there is not a logical inside candidate. Just as we want our children to have a better life than we did, we share similar goals for our business. In this case, we want the next leader to be an upgrade.

I’m often asked, what I should look for in my successor. My quick answer is someone who meets your core values and has the skills and wills to take your company to the next level. As you might imagine, this is correct but rarely helpful. If you dig a little deeper, then perhaps the best place to start with the traits observed in existing owners.

When you survey owners about the personality traits that led to their success, they will be quick to use words like determination, sacrifice, hard work, humility, curiosity, or even “dumb luck.” These are valuable traits to aid in navigating the challenges of running a business.

Discipline: The #1 Trait of Successful Owners

Working with owners, I have experienced their wins, struggles, stress, and fears as they balance managing themselves and others while keeping the organization headed in the right direction. The one trait I have observed at the center of their core value system is Discipline.

  • The discipline to stick to their original vision despite the temptation to veer off course.
  • The discipline to stick to their original product or service offering despite clients asking for different things.
  • The discipline to ignore whatever “shiny ball” demanding their attention and instead focus on what they set out to do

Steve Jobs, the legendary co-founder of Apple, said it best:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to one thousand things.”

While curiosity and grit are essential personality traits for any would-be founder, the ability to remain disciplined in the face of opportunity may be the most critical attribute of all.

Darren Cherry is an Area President for FocusCFO based in Columbus, OH. Darren is also an Exit Strategy Consultant certified through the Exit Planning Institute. 

Founded in 2001, FocusCFO is the leading onsite fractional CFO services provider in the Midwest and Southeast. FocusCFO works closely with small to medium sized businesses helping business owners gain control over three key financial and operational areas: increasing cash flow, reducing business risk, and creating a platform for scalable growth. This allows business owners to then realize full financial control and increased value in their businesses. For more information, follow us on LinkedIn.

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