Book Summary: 8 common challenges facing transitioning leaders.

Mater You Next Move book cover

Master Your Next Move: Proven Strategies for Navigating the First 90 Days – and Beyond

by Michael Watkins

Master Your Next Move is a guide for leaders who are transitioning into new roles, be it through promotions, taking a job at a different organization, or other career shifts. Successful careers involve navigating a sequence of demanding transitions, often occurring in clusters. It is crucial to map out these transitions, identify your personal adaptability, and recognize the obstacles to organizational change so that you can better understand the challenges you are facing.

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Book Summary: The four supporting roles in a CEO transition.

Transitions at the Top: What Organizations Must Do to Make Sure New Leaders Succeed

by Dan Ciampa and David L. Dotlich

Transitions at the Top aims to address the high failure rate and lackluster performance of newly-appointed CEOs of public corporations.

This summary comes with a caveat for nonprofits: the focus is on CEOs of public corporations. Public corporations have a different governance structure than nonprofits. First, their boards include inside (executive) directors and outside (independent) directors. Second, the current or former CEO often serves as board chair. Given the differences in governance structure and the role of the chief executive, some advice in those two areas must be taken with a grain of salt.

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Book Summary: Master your new job from Day One.

100-Day Action Plan book cover

The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan: Take Charge, Build Your Team, and Deliver Better Results Faster

by George B. Bradt, Jayme A. Check, and John A. Lawler

The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan is a comprehensive guide for newly appointed leaders, whether they are succeeding an incumbent in an existing position or taking on a newly created role. The book offers an in-depth exploration of the new leader’s journey and presents a practical, detailed roadmap for assuming full leadership in the new role. First-time leaders will find the step-by-step recommendations particularly helpful.

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Book Summary: Accelerate your success in your new role.

first 90 days book cover

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter

by Michael Watkins

The First 90 Days helps leaders to transition smoothly and make a positive impact early in their new job. The book focuses on the first 90 days because actions during the first few months in a new role determine if a leader succeeds or fails.

Whether you’ve been promoted to a new position within the same organization or you’re joining a different organization, this book covers how to get to the “breakeven point” faster and ultimately be more successful in your new role. (Breakeven is when you start to contribute more to the organization than you consume through learning and integration.) Watkins says this book’s principles can shorten the time to breakeven by 40%.

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What to Do When Your Executive Director Decides to Leave

Pensive executive

Nearly every nonprofit faces the challenge of hiring a new chief executive at some point. And every board seems to remember the terse line in their bylaws when it comes to managing the transition. The one that reads, “The board is responsible for hiring and supervising the chief executive.” Unfortunately, that directive doesn’t come close to addressing the board’s responsibility for managing executive turnover.

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Every Executive’s Departure Has a Style. What Will Be Yours?

Updated June 4, 2022

Get my replacement here at least six months before I leave so I can train him. That was how Alice⁠[*] responded to my question about how she saw the upcoming CEO transition going.

Alice’s organization had just hired me to find her successor and advise them on the transition between Alice and the new CEO. My response to her statement could have been, “no cause for alarm.” Alice was retiring as the CEO, and transitions and retirement always create an element of anxiety. Also, departing execs often overestimate how much overlap their successors will need.

But, the way she said it — staccato, jabbing her index finger into her palm to emphasize each word — THAT was more than a little concerning. I thought, “Oh boy, I may be dealing with a “general” here.

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What to Do AFTER You Fire Your Executive Director

The circumstances surrounding executive director terminations are usually more complicated than they appear. There’s a lot to sort out ahead of a termination. For more on that, see the companion article, What to Do Before Your Fire Your Executive Director. Instead, in this article, we’ll focus on how to put the organization back on track after the inevitable trauma of a termination.

When a board fires or forces out its executive director, human tendencies kick in, resulting in two common mistakes.

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What to Do BEFORE You Fire Your Executive Director

Unfortunately, there are times when a nonprofit board is forced to initiate the parting of ways with its executive director.

In some situations, the cause is clear and urgent, such as illegal acts or other gross misconduct. In other instances, such as those involving performance issues, there may have been a gradual buildup of the reasons and rationale. Whatever the cause, here’s what the board should do before the termination. (Click here for advice on what to do after you’ve fired your executive.)

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What to Do When You’re Ready to Leave the Executive Director Role

Your decision to leave the executive director role sets major changes in motion — big changes for yourself and your organization. It’s critical that you plan for executive succession.

Unwinding from the role and preparing the organization for the transition involves more than packing up your office.

Similarly, the search for your successor takes more than dusting off the job description, running a few ads, and hoping for the best. A chief executive transition involves more than a hiring decision; it’s a major organizational change.

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Planning the Executive Handoff

The final stage in the nonprofit executive succession process for the departing executive director is handing off the role to their successor. The handoff consists of at least one meeting, if not a series of meetings, between the exiting and incoming executives.

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, the departing executive has three succession jobs: to lead the organization and prepare themselves for life’s next chapter, of course, and to ensure that the organization is ready to work effectively with the successor. And a key part of that organizational prep work is ensuring that there’s a well-planned handoff.

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