I’m late to the party but have recently gotten hooked on the television show Designated Survivor. In real life, a Cabinet member is sent to an undisclosed location during the State of the Union “in case” something happens at the Capital. In the show, a bombing does occur, and the former Housing and Urban Development secretary finds himself thrust into the presidency of the United States with no warning or preparation.

In addition to the suspense and intrigue that the fictional account entails, it has also has me thinking about situations like this that actually do occur in other settings. Recently, leaders of two major organizations in town have resigned without notice, leaving someone on their staff or board to assume leadership of a complex situation. I know of someone who had an injury and was unexpectedly out of the office for several weeks and another who had a family emergency that took her out of town for an extended period.

In the show, amidst all the chaos of trying to figure out what is going on, one of the fictional staffers makes the comment: “Why don’t they prepare for this?” and the new president says: “They did. That’s why there’s a Designated Survivor.”

While the one who inexplicably is placed in charge undoubtedly feels overwhelmed, at least it is clear who has the power and authority to start making the multitude of decisions that must be handled. Every organization should have a “designated survivor” or person-in-charge should something happen to the current leader. And it would behoove the number-twos to pay some attention to the inner workings of the organization – know where the passcodes are and the key data that would be beneficial if the leader was no longer available to share them.

Being thrust into leadership without preparation may make for good television, but it makes for lousy real life.

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