Transition with Grace


New leadership is an opportunity and a challenge. The worst outcome is not the transition itself but an organization in constant or long term transition mode. The longer the organization languishes in transition, the more “normal” it feels and the harder it is to change course. If the organization starts, stops and restarts it is unable to focus on growing and building stronger services. What can current staff and board leaders do to prepare the organization for what lies ahead?

Transition is more awkward and challenging the longer the tenure of current staff and board. Creating a strong leadership development plan throughout the organization, and particularly at the board level, encourages and prepares the organization for staff leadership transition.

Beginning the discussion is the most difficult. There are so many assumptions.  Sometimes the transition decision is contentious. In these cases, it is essential to remove leaders and staff unable to carry out the organization’s decision.  This often occurs as the organization progresses after a founder. We will explore this particular situation in later posts.

Leading a successful transition is a large undertaking with many moving parts. The current leader,  new leader, other staff, and the board satisfy different roles. If any player falters, the organization looks to other players to complete these duties and facilitate a successful transition. Therefore, the players themselves play a pivotal role.

Developing a board with diverse leaders ready to contribute and committed to the transition is critical. Some members will be responsible for a larger role but all members are accountable for the transition. One of the most important resources the organization will dedicate is time.

The Board also needs many skills and experiences to identify and orientate the new leader. Board members with programmatic education and experience will develop these interview questions and reach out to partners. Corporate and private donors examine whether a candidate will be able to develop the contacts and relationships necessary to grow diverse revenue streams. Other leaders will facilitate the hiring process itself. If the organization has the resources it can hire a consultant to fill in the gaps.

During leadership transition all organization members hunger for information. Do not ignore their need to know. Instead, utilize and continue building strong, consistent, and effective avenues of communication.

Organizations facing an upcoming leadership transition often confront additional hurdles. Tackling these issues before the organization welcomes the new leader increases the likelihood that the new leader will succeed during the pivotal first year.  In the next post we will examine how to develop a CEO job description that cultivates a new leader.


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