Leadership change brings uncertainty for all stakeholders of an organization. You wonder if the person is going to quit before they really quit. You wonder if they are going to set up a smooth passing of power. You usually don’t have a lot of runway time to prepare if the person is leaving for another job or if they asked to leave.

 

Most consultants will tell you to plan for transition and succession, but it’s hard to address the murky waters beyond a written transition plan and cross-training staff to assume responsibilities. So once you’ve avoided knowledge hostage status, how do you navigate the waiting space?

 

I am currently sitting in the waiting space. I resigned my position as Executive Director of STSM in April of 2019 and gave six months of working notice to ensure my Board of Directors had adequate time for an executive search. The first three months flew by like nothing was changing, but suddenly we sit in the last 10 weeks of my tenure. I’m fortunate to have a great deal of flexibility in my departure since I’m leaving to help other organizations navigate change.

 

Some things I encourage boards and executives to consider when an executive departure is eminent:

– Vulnerability, honesty, and trust are critical to working smoothly together. Both boards and executives must be willing to openly share what they can and can’t do, what they recommend, and how they are working through the transition.

– Make the hiring process effective, even at the expense of efficiency. This is the most important decision most board members will ever make. It determines the immediate leadership and a large part of the future direction of the organization. Be intentional in identifying your candidate profile and desired skills before receiving the first application. Make sure you are hiring the candidate you need for the next 3-5 years and not the nicest person from the pile of resumes. If you get to the end and the last people standing don’t meet your qualifications, check to make sure you aren’t lowering your standard at the expense of the agency’s future. Don’t make an offer just to get the search done.

– Plan for communication to internal and external stakeholders, especially when a longer transition is happening. Be clear about who owns the various action items for communication. Who will share with staff and who will share with funders? This will help their trust and support of the new leader.

 

I’m fortunate to have an amazing Board of Directors and I’m so thankful for their support in launching my own venture as I leave STSM. Our strong relationship has helped me to share my grief in leaving an organization that I love and my fear in walking away from it. It also gives me strength to know that they would never settle for less than the best and to feel confident that whomever they hire to fill this role will be ready to take the organization to the next level.

 

If this departure process sounds foreign or impossible to you, let’s talk about how we can facilitate a succession strategy at your nonprofit. Working with an interim executive gives boards room to breathe and make good decisions for the future of the organization. StopGap Solutions can provide interim leadership to give a board time to conduct an executive search. Interim leadership can range in tenure from 3-18 months with minimal support like turning on the lights and writing checks to fully assuming leadership responsibilities until an ideal candidate is identified.

 

Preparing for a leadership change? Want to know more? Let’s talk.