I’m delighted to be Mary Hiland’s guest on episode #23 of her podcast, Inspired Nonprofit Leadership.
Our topic is nonprofit leadership development. Here are the points that we cover:
- The three big myths about leadership development.
- The 70-20-10 model of learning and development and how you can use it.
- “Owning” your career versus “renting it,” and the importance of having a developmental mindset.
- How emerging leaders don’t need to wait around for the organization to develop them.
- How to use stretch assignments and rounding out experiences.
- The two “Ps” of talent development.
- Moving in, moving up and moving on – managing career turns.
- Every job involves a social contract and the contract’s four elements.
- The five core competencies of nonprofit CEOs.
We managed to pack a lot into just 34 minutes! I hope you’ll have a listen.
Available on the Inspired Nonprofit Leadership podcast page, or on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app.
It’s unavoidable. Your nonprofit’s executive leader will leave sooner or later, maybe even sooner than you think. And yet, if your nonprofit is like most, a succession plan has not been discussed.
Too often considered an awkward or uncomfortable conversation, many choose to avoid the issue or wait until it happens. While this choice is very likely to have a negative impact on the organization, preparing for succession opens up a whole range of dialogues that lead to a stronger, better prepared organization.
This article addresses how to prepare for a smooth transition regardless of how or when your executive leaves.
If your nonprofit is like most, there’s an 80% chance your organization does not have a succession plan in place for the chief executive position, even though there’s a 100% chance that he or she will leave the role eventually.
Steer clear of two risky mindsets
There seem to be two mindsets behind this lack of attention to leadership succession: the denial mindset and the replacement mindset.
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Work can be viewed as a job (a source of money and security), a career (a source of achievement and advancement), or a calling (a source of meaning and purpose).
Since the days of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the notion of a “calling” has been associated with religion. But researchers have found strong parallels between secular and sacred callings.
In the secular sense, a calling has been described as “an approach to work that reflects the belief that one’s career is a central part of a broader sense of purpose and meaning in life and is used to help others or advance the greater good in some fashion.” Others say that it also involves a sense of “duty, sacrifice, and vigilance.”
How can you tell if you have a calling?
Researchers say that regardless of whether the source is religious or secular, callings have the following three characteristics:
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Nearly every board faces the challenge of hiring a new chief executive at some point. And when it comes to managing the CEO transition, every board seems to remember that terse line in the bylaws. You know — the one that reads, “the board is responsible for hiring and supervising the chief executive.” Unfortunately, that directive is terribly short advice. It doesn’t come close to addressing the board’s full responsibility for managing CEO turnover.
CEO transitions are complicated, but managing them well is easier than you think. This post outlines the board’s six tasks for managing the transition the right way. But before we talk about what to do, let’s cover what not to do.
The first common mistake is seeing the transition only as a hiring problem. In reality, hiring the new chief executive is a part of a much larger transition process. It’s a process that involves more changes than who occupies the chief executive position. Ignoring this larger process means you’re ignoring a lot of the related changes and risks — leaving them to chance rather than being intentionally managed.
The second common mistake is rushing through the process. When boards discover that their executive is planning to leave, many rush to fill the position as soon as possible.
The pressure to jump in the search mode is understandable. Hiring a new chief executive is among the board’s biggest responsibilities. And, it’s foreign territory for nearly every board. Faced with complexity and the threat of the unfamiliar, the board is experiencing a form of pain. And we all want the pain to go away as quickly as possible.
But rushing leads to cutting corners and skipping over aspects of the transition that can yield big dividends. A CEO transition is an opportunity to level up an organization’s game plan and capabilities, not just manage the potential downsides.
Now, let’s take a look at those six tasks. This figure outlines how these tasks fall along the three phases of the CEO Succession Timeline, discussed in a previous post.
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The final stage in the succession process for the departing executive is handing off the role to their successor. This consists of at least a meeting, if not a series of meetings, between the exiting and incoming executives.
I’ve proposed elsewhere that unless they are being fired or there are other extenuating circumstances, the departing executive has three jobs during the succession process as a leader in transition. In addition to leading the organization and preparing themselves for life’s next chapter, they have a responsibility to ensure that the organization is ready to work effectively with their successor. And a key part of that preparation is
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You have to get my successor in here at least six months before I leave so I can train him! That was how Alice Hendrix responded to my question about how she saw the upcoming CEO transition going.
I had just been engaged by Alice’s board to help them recruit and hire her successor and to help the board manage the transition process. My initial response to her comment could have been, “no cause for alarm”; Alice was the departing CEO and an upcoming transition always produces some level of anxiety. Plus, many departing executives overestimate the amount of overlap necessary with their successor. But, it was how she said it — staccato while jabbing her index finger into her opposing palm to emphasize every word. Now, THAT was a little disconcerting. My thought was, “Is she a ‘general’ or a ‘monarch’ who’s being eased out by her board?” But what does that mean? “General”? “Monarch”?
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When was the last time you read a book on nonprofit leadership – or a book on leadership of any kind, for that matter – that made you laugh out loud, tugged your heartstrings, and compelled you to keep reading? Maybe never, right? That’s about to change if you pick up a copy of Joan Garry’s Guide to Nonprofit Leadership (Because Nonprofits Are Messy).
You’ll be treated to over 200 pages of wisdom, wittily written. Here are my chapter-by-chapter takeaways:
- The Superpowers of Nonprofit Leadership – I loved Joan’s use of the Superman-Spiderman-Gumby-Kermit the Frog analogy to explore the challenges and trade-offs inherent in everyday leadership in the nonprofit world and what’s a good fit in various situations.
- You Got to Get Me at Hello – Nugget after nugget about how to tell the story of your organization, but amidst all that, the discussion about giving your elevator pitch to a 10-year-old was priceless.
- Copilots in a Twin Engine Plane – As a longtime advocate for the importance of what I call the board-executive social contract, this chapter had me singing. I loved her “five-star board chair checklist,” “telltale signs of wrong,” ”getting it right from the start,” and “feeding the board.” Brilliant.
- The Key Is Not in the Answers. It’s in the Questions – Compared to the others, I found this to be one of the more conventional chapters in the book, but nonetheless a solid discussion of strategy development and planning.
- You Can Do This – An excellent discussion of the fear and loathing about fundraising, and, ultimately, the joys of taking responsibility for this lifeblood area.
- Managing the Paid and Unpaid (or I Came to Change the World, Not Conduct Evaluations) – A rich exploration of managing people, staff, and volunteers. I especially liked the section on managing in 3-D.
- When It Hits the Fan – Having sat on two insurance company boards and played a small but early role in the formation of the Nonprofit Risk Management Center, I know nonprofits do face significant risks in their operations, and some more than others. Having a contingency plan for crisis management and business continuity can spell the difference between survival and early death, if and when it does hit the fan.
- Hello, I Must Be Going (or Navigating Leadership Transitions) – As a leadership succession consultant, this is “my” chapter. First, I love that she deals with both board and staff transitions. She does a solid job looking at some of the symptoms and challenges of various types of board leadership, especially when it goes awry. (Hey, anybody can fly the plane when it’s smooth going.) Also, Joan does a great job outlining symptoms, challenges, and antidotes to various scenarios involving CEO transitions. But, she won my heart by talking about how too often transitions are couched in terms of crisis. In fact, I think her final quote in this chapter should be cast in bronze and sent to every nonprofit board and executive in the country: “Build a stable, effective organization with great people and I guarantee you the transition will be stable too.” Amen, sister. Amen!
- You Are the Champions – Oh no, the last chapter! Let’s see how she closes. There are some nice callbacks to some of the points that she made earlier in the book. But wait, only five pages? There’s some discussion about the intensity of the leadership roles, and she nicely ties it to the analogy of sprinters versus marathoners. But I think there’s a lot more that could have been done in this chapter to address personal resiliency in nonprofit leadership roles. Okay, this is a small gripe – sort of like complaining about the caramelization of my crème brûlée after being treated to a rich banquet of ideas.
(Switching metaphors.) I’m a hiker. And I especially love hiking in the spring. That’s how I felt reading this book. A spring walk in the woods is an immersion in an awakening land. There are fresh breezes. All around you there are items big and small that capture your imagination and inspire you. There’s the promise of growth, and you feel enveloped in possibility. If you are a nonprofit executive or board member, take a trip through this book and see if you don’t feel the same. Available from Amazon.
Laura Mitchell reached for the phone and dialed the number. As she was waiting for the answer, she arranged the papers on her desk with the questions she was about to ask. Laura, a newly hired nonprofit CEO, just 23 days on the job, was completing her final “get-to-know-you” conversations with members of her new board.
Because she knew how critical it is to build relationships with board members early, she arranged a series of lunches, coffees, and phone calls with individual members of the board. She knew this investment of effort early on would pay huge dividends later.
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I am delighted to be this week’s guest on Joan Garry’s podcast “Nonprofits are Messy” on the topic “leadership transitions, how to avoid the mess.” Join us for a lively discussion that covers:
- Recent trends in leadership transitions in the nonprofit sector
- How to create a WRITTEN succession plan (and why it’s critical)
- The single biggest mistake boards make in succession planning
- The three things a board needs to do when confronted with a transition
- Pros and cons of hiring internal candidates
- What to do if you think you made the wrong hire
Here’s the link: Leadership Transitions: How to Avoid the Mess
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The circumstances surrounding most CEO terminations are usually more complicated than they appear. I’ll leave the termination process to the legal experts. Instead, this article covers how to put the organization back on track after the inevitable trauma of a CEO termination.
When a board fires or forces out its CEO, two human tendencies come into play: heap all the blame on the departed executive and rush to hire a new one.
When a board fires or forces out its CEO, two human tendencies come into play. The first is to heap all the blame on the departed executive—to link the organization’s problems to the perceived deficiencies of the former CEO. This attitude can blind the board to the other very real underlying problems that helped to precipitate the termination, including the board’s potential complicity in creating some of the circumstances that led to the departure.
The second tendency is to rush to hire a new executive. Lulled by the idea that the problems can all be traced back to the “flaws” of the former executive, the board often scrambles to hire their next CEO. Many begin by looking for someone who is something of a mirror opposite of the departed executive. Fresh off the heels of the termination, the board usually starts seeking candidates who have strengths where the departed CEO had weaknesses.
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