Organizations gain new connections and opportunities with each new leader. Creating space for new leaders does not mean current or former leaders disappear. Instead strong organizations develop opportunities for all to contribute. How does an organization respect and recognize their former leaders and develop new ones?
The challenges are even larger for founders. Founders have special roles and special opportunities. They identified the organization’s need and built it from the ground up. Being a new leader is exhausting, but the role of founder is demanding. There will never be another founder. Communities look to organizations to grow and develop to meet their needs. How do organizations maintain balance while inviting all to participate?
Building a structure that encourages the contribution of all leaders is challenging. Former leaders are used to guiding the organization and providing advice and guidance. However, offering advice does not mean the former leader remains in control or makes decisions. As leaders take on new roles, there will be new expectations and boundaries.
Successful leaders, both current and former, understand the limits and opportunities of their participation. The new leader makes the decision. They are building the organization now. They do not have credibility if the organization is not behind them.
Part of a leader’s legacy is how the organization continues to grow after the leader’s term. Current leaders learn from the past. As best as our records are we cannot capture everything. Former leaders have the knowledge and personal relationships to provide guidance. Their participation also increases credibility.
Boundaries are rarely black and white. Partners may not realize when they are striking to close to someone else’s role. Supporters are used to coming to leaders even after transition. It is the former leader’s role to remind someone who asks them to cross the line to respectfully decline.
It is the founder’s responsibility to direct board members and others to new leader. This is challenging for many founders. It was very hard to build the organization. Many see it as disrespectful, if the organization chooses a different path, a new vision.
Stepping back after transition is similar to a parent’s relationship with their young adult children. Parents know that if they push too hard, their adult children will walk away and not ask for additional guidance. Further, once that adult child makes a mistake, the parent responding with “I told you so” rarely creates additional avenues of communication.
In a small number of cases, founders and new leaders can successfully lead together. They believe in each other and respect one another’s skills. Even in these cases, there will be times when leaders disagree, building a plan to navigate these differences before they occur is essential.
Creating leadership structure is even more challenging for emerging organizations. We will explore this in the next post.