Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel recently died at the age of 87. Wiesel endured the most serious atrocities of mankind, survived them and dedicated his life to conveying the message of never again. In one sense, the memory keeper of the Holocaust is gone, yet I wonder who will fill his shoes?

I’ve never experienced a time when so many business owners are looking for that certain person to take the reins of their company. Finding someone to fill the shoes of the original owner is extremely difficult but not nearly as difficult as what the new leader will face once identified.

Promoting Within or Out

When a company promotes someone from within to lead the company, differences in opinion on whether or not the person is the right choice or is capable of running the company is for the most part the result of good or bad history. 

In other words, there are two groups: those who like and those who dislike the person selected. There will also be a few people who believe they should have been selected. In any case, promoting or even identifying the person to be groomed to take over the company depends on history.

When working with business owners who are going through the process of selecting someone to take over, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem has little to do with the person selected or the person to be groomed. It has more to do with whether or not the people within the company trust the judgment of the owner in making good decisions

When a company is divided on this issue, it may mean that those who are opposed to the owner’s decision have little trust or confidence in the owner’s ability to make this decision. Said differently, those who oppose the owners decision reflects upon the owner rather than the person selected and the same applies to hiring outside the company. 

When you go outside the company, there is less history to deal with, but no matter who is hired, the level of opposition especially at high levels is a direct reflection on the owner—not the person selected.

Opposition to who leads a company in the future carries with it inestimable costs. Turmoil and ensuing morale issues are likely to have the largest cost impact. As well, the amount of time and energy wasted is incalculable. In few words, “division comes with a price tag,” and it can be high, low or at no cost.

Pick a Side

In this corner we have Mary who will lead the company from this point forward. In the other corner we have the opposition to Mary leading the company. In the middle of the ring, we have the referee and outside the ring we have the audience looking on to see who wins this epic battle. Will it be Mary or the loyal opposition?

As the test of wills goes on for six months, one year or more, its likely Mary will throw in the towel at some point because she’s spending most of her time defending herself against the opposition. In these cases, it’s not Mary who loses. Mary will likely leave the company and either work for a competitor or start her own business taking with her a number of staff members who like her. 

There will always be some opposition to big changes, however, what makes change much faster, easier and much more affective is when employees trust an owners judgment. In other words, owners who have a good track record for making good decisions will experience less opposition than owners who have a poor record.

Filling Empty Shoes

The Los Angeles Times described Elie Wiesel as “the most important Jew in America.” As the author of 57 books, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, Wiesel was also a professor at Boston University where he taught humanities.

He devoted much of his time to Jewish causes and helped establish the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies was created in his honor.

Although someone will take on Wiesel’s work, that person will not likely have the first-hand knowledge. But, it doesn’t mean the new person can’t pick-up the torch and run with it differently from Wiesel. The same is true for someone taking over the controls of a company, “they may do things differently because they are different.”

The thing that kills change or a change in management is the level of opposition that occurs at high levels. How does a business owner minimize or eliminate opposition to change or a change in management?


Business owners over time develop a reputation among their peers and employees that either breeds confidence or a lack thereof. The level of opposition to an owner’s decision is a good indicator of the owners overall approval rating.

As with U.S. presidents, past polls show us that overall approval levels indicate the level of confidence people had in a particular President. According to a Gallup Poll, John F. Kennedy had one of the highest average approval ratings and Harry Truman had one of the lowest.

We can say with confidence that peers and employees of business owners keep an invisible approval rating. If an owner consistently has low scores, it’s likely that staff at high levels will become the loyal opposition.

Low approval ratings are really difficult to overcome especially when selecting that next “someone” to lead a company, but one can be sure that high levels of opposition to a selection can be very costly in a variety of ways.