Align the legacies

misaligned color 2Have you ever sat down to read a book, magazine or newspaper and recognized that something’s off? The color of the image bleeds past the outline, as if the printer hadn’t learned to “color within the lines” as we tell our young ones with their coloring books.

What has happened is that the alignment is off; the printer is delivering the right colors, but if they’re not lined up just so, the whole picture looks wrong.

Colors on the printed page are a visible sign of an alignment challenge. As leadership-transition consultants, one we learn about very often — often harder to recognize — is the alignment of the interests and legacies of nonprofit leaders and the organizations they lead, especially when the leader is nearing the end of her or his tenure.

We’ve devoted a chapter in our new book, When Leaders Leave: A New Perspective on Leadership Change, to “Aligning the Legacies.” We ask the questions, and provide some answers and even more tools to help you move forward, to determine whether your organization and your organization’s leader are still moving in the same direction.

Nonprofit leaders, especially longtime leaders and founders, can stay long enough so that even the most selfless and committed-to-the-cause executives can find their interests diverging from their organization’s mission. It can happen gradually, even sneakily, as a leader’s ego and attachment to original ideals or personal relationships begin to conflict with the long-term interests of the organization.

Misalignment can even result from simple growing pains. The leader who got your organization where it is may not necessarily be the leader to take you to the next level. The vision and willingness and ability to “do it all” at an organization’s launch often come from a different skill-set from the talents necessary to grow an organization and transform it into a sustainable enterprise.

In our book, When Leaders Leave, we provide tools and tips to help nonprofit leaders, their boards and others in the organization to recognize a win-win solution long before the end approaches. By thinking early on about how to satisfy the divergent needs of a leader and his or her organization, nonprofits can sharpen the image of their successful future. And the colors might even line up just right for all.