Summer’s end – no time to avoid thinking about leadership transitions Seasons change & so do CEOs

As summer vacations or slow seasons are ending, some of us are doing anything we can to not think about work while the weather beckons us outdoors. And if there’s a conflict or stressful situation awaiting us at our workplace, all the more reason to take another dive into the water. But escaping underwater or putting your head in the sand won’t make the problem go away. The same holds true for succession planning at nonprofit organizations.

It’s a simple fact that every organization’s leader, no matter how indispensible they seem or how long they’ve been guiding the organization, will leave someday. Change is the one constant we can all count on. But just because we all know a leadership transition is coming eventually doesn’t mean that our organizations, our leaders and especially our boards of directors are all prepared for that inevitable transition.

We have recently completed a book that distills decades of experience helping nonprofit organizations manage these transitions. “When Leaders Leave” is a tool to help people leading organizations, both forward-looking CEOs and responsible boards, overcome the discomfort that can short-circuit leadership transition planning.

The nonprofit leaders and boards who manage to think about the difficulty in leadership transition and push past the urge to avoid it will be the ones to successfully navigate the challenge, and even thrive.

In our book, we list signs that can help board members and nonprofit employees – as well as founders and longtime leaders capable of introspection – recognize the organizational dysfunction that can accompany a long-tenured leader who hasn’t adequately planned for an eventual leadership transition and prepared his or her organization accordingly.

  • Is the organization too exclusively identified with the founder/leader?
  •  Does the organization tend to just react instead of act?
  • Does the founder-leader dominate all critical decision-making without real input from staff or board?
  • Is the founder/leader surrounded by cheerleaders at the board and staff level, with loyalty valued over good ideas or real feedback?
  • Is there a succession plan?
  • Do any rising leaders on staff have room to grow and develop?
  • Is the board rubber-stamping the founder/leader’s actions without asking basic financial or programmatic questions?

If any of these questions or their answers hit a little close to home for you or your organization, you and the leaders at your nonprofit would benefit from our book, “When Leaders Leave.” While essential, recognizing whether your organization is prepared for a leadership transition is just one early step among many in navigating turnover at the top. Buy our book or follow this blog for more helpful hints.