Business Week has an article about the succession process unfolding at Proctor and Gamble. The company announced this week that Robert McDonald will take over from A.G. Lafley as CEO. The authors point out that Lafley has become a management icon during his very successful tenure at the company. Moreover, they stress that the track record of those CEOs who follow icons is rather mixed.
This issue raises an important question about which I've often wondered. Many leadership scholars argue that the mark of a truly great CEO is that the company's performance persists long after he or she retires. It is said that such CEOs built sustainable organizations. However, one could make the counterargument... a drop-off in performance after a CEO retires could be taken as a sign that the leader was indeed substantially responsible for the exceptional performance during his or her tenure. In other words, maybe a drop-off after retirement means that the CEO added a great deal of value, above and beyond what another leader can bring to the table.