Succession Planning

by Steven Holbert, Phoenix Tai Chi Centre London, Ontario

How will you pass on your Taiji club/school when you decide to retire? Do you have a contingency plan in place for illness? Where will you find your successor?

Wikipedia’s definition of succession planning:

Succession planning is a process for identifying and developing new leaders who can replace old leaders when they leave, retire or die. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available.

We see examples of succession operating around us: a business organization is inherited or bequeathed to a family member; an arts organization opens a talent search; a government holds elections; a take-over is planned by one organization to buy out another and install their people.  Other forms of succession can be found, although some may not be easy to describe.

I have seen many recreational clubs (martial arts dojos, dance studios, yoga centres, etc.) established by a person or persons dedicated to that art or exercise,  come and go.  Some have successfully transitioned to new operators, while others struggle with changes in their operations.

I will describe a couple of examples that have worked in Tai Chi settings.

In my situation, I noted that Gloria Jenner had a knack for “calling forth” teachers.  She mentored them, while teaching others herself.  Some were formally guided in the teaching of Tai Chi, others picked up on her technique and knowledge.

Gloria would occasionally ask if I thought I would teach Tai Chi more often, and once if I would consider doing it regularly.  I usually demurred.  Then I retired from my profession in 2009, and took on more teaching.  Gloria decided to retire in 2012, so I started thinking about taking on the Centre.  After chats with senior teachers, and with Gloria about transitions, I became the Director of the Phoenix Tai Chi Centre that year.

In a conversation with Jill Heath sometime later, reviewing how we became the teachers for a specific group, I stated: “I may not be a master, but I will show up every week.”  Seven years later, I still show up every week, sometimes teaching six classes a week.  I have had the support of Gloria and the other teachers.  Now, I watch students to see who may be a good candidate for future instructor.

Another example I observed: A club survived the loss of their senior instructor and co-founder due to the energy of the trained cadre of teachers he had helped establish.  The transition has been fraught with grief, but the leadership group has pulled together marvellously.

One type of succession that I have not observed, but have read about, is the stepping in of a lineage holder of that school.  Perhaps you have seen this happen, or experienced it in your system of practice.

Another situation offered by Steve Higgins of Cold Mountain Internal Arts, is that there may be a collaborative model in the making.  He notes that his skill set covers several martial arts, and it is unlikely that some other person will step forward with that same set.  He can identify several leading students who have mastered elements of his curriculum; they could establish a setting using different instructors for the various forms offered.

Perhaps another situation will be a group of students who find their own teachers.

I could not find stats on the longevity of martial arts/Taiji schools.  My guess is that many close after leadership changes.

So, some questions for your consideration:

What do you want to do about your operation?

Is anyone ready to take it on?  Can someone step in?

What arrangements are required to pass on your club/centre?

Ongoing discussion is welcome.  Other innovations in club formation or skill transfer may emerge with time.

Reference:  How to Create a Succession Plan for your Martial Arts School                

1 thought on “Succession Planning”

  1. It is both amusing and sadenning yet completely understandable that one who has collected several martial arts principles cannot convey all of them to a single successor any longer but instead rely upon the translation of many individuals with their own perspective towards a respective aspect of one art.

    It is a hope that one day the main message of non violent resolution will be practiced by all.

    -Mara of Northern Palaces Internal Art

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