Most chief executives would apparently rather chew on spiders than groom a successor.
Yes, they can do the strategy thing, schmooze the stakeholders, be brilliant ambassadors for their organisations. But when you ask them how they are preparing a smooth handover for their job move, retirement or demise, they grow silent.
Why is this? The all-too-human wish to believe one is immortal must be the easiest explanation. The idea that, "as long as I keep working, then I will never die". The most striking example has at the British Museum's First Emperor exhibition. This extraordinary Chinese ruler set himself the project of creating thousands of larger-than-life clay warriors and horses to guard his tomb and ensure his safe and comfortable afterlife, the ultimate in madness and folly - and utterly wonderful to behold 2,500 years later.
Back in modern times, the Grand Guignol theatre that is politics shows us another version of the same phenomenon. This is the chief executive's fantasy that no one is up to the job in the same way as its current incumbent or is just not quite ready yet. Tony Blair preferred to keep his obvious successor in a state of constant sulks and scowling, nail-chewing helplessness rather than genuinely developing him for the role.
Many chief executives have an all-consuming love affair with their work. Often, this has been achieved at the expense of family life. Equally, this kind of person may have forgotten, if they ever knew, how to enjoy their leisure time.
In our typical first coaching sessions, we will take a whole-life perspective with clients, asking them how satisfied they are with every aspect of their lives: work, health, money, family, personal growth and leisure. It would not be unusual when we get to the family, leisure and personal growth questions to have clients reply with a guilty mumble that they don't have time for any of that.
All this is bad news for the organisation. When that chief executive leaves for another job, retires, falls over or gets pushed, the organisation is typically in shock and may spend months, if not years, searching for the elusive saviour who will solve all their problems. Think, for instance, of the mess at Disney because Walt had neglected the vital task of planning succession.
Some research suggests that an outstanding and long-lived organisation is distinguished by its extended line of home-grown chief executives. Jack Welch, once described as "the leading master of corporate change in our times", spent his entire career at General Electric and took his time with many years of careful searching before he identified and then schooled his successor, commenting at one point, "it occupies a considerable amount of my thought almost every day". Bringing in an outsider often seems to be a failure - and a confession of weakness.
The quick-in, quick-out model of leadership so common in the NHS simply doesn't work. The crucial question is how well the organisation will perform in the next generation - and after that. Planning to develop and grow your own leaders should be a critical part of the mix that will produce long-term success.