Ask Two Courageous Questions Before Launching Your CEO Transition

Before proceeding with a CEO transition, there are two critical questions that you and your board should ask about your organization. These questions are almost never raised because our default mode is focused on maintaining business as usual. In business-as-usual mode, we approach leadership succession as just another problem to solve. In this mode, we see the CEO job opening as simply another vacancy to fill. We don’t recognize that this transition is an important punctuation point for the organization, a moment when we should take a step back and ask, should we fill this vacancy? Should we rethink what we’re doing here? Is there a better path forward? Is there a better way to achieve our mission work?
So here are two courageous questions you and your board should ask and answer at this pivotal moment:

questions to ask before CEO transition

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Five Common CEO Succession Mistakes

(and How to Avoid Them)

In an earlier post, I proposed that every nonprofit CEO needs an exit strategy because every career and every job ends in a transition, eventually. It’s just a matter of when, how and how well-managed that transition will be when the time comes. I also proposed that departing CEOs face three jobs, two of them new. In addition to leading the organization, part of the CEO’s leave-taking process should involve helping ready their organization for the transition and preparing themselves for life’s next chapter. Building on that article, here are some common CEO succession mistakes that nonprofits frequently make and how you can avoid them.

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Three Phases of the CEO Succession Timeline

Executive successions vary widely in their circumstances, but they share a common driver of success: readiness. This includes the executive’s readiness and that of the organization.

Succession Timeline

Timing and readiness are different but related things. Timing has to do with the sequencing of events, processes, or changes. Readiness is about the willingness to make the changes and the level of preparation necessary to successfully navigate the change process. For leadership succession, readiness first involves the willingness of the executive to initiate the succession process – to recognize that it’s time to move on and to take charge of his/her own exit. Readiness also involves how prepared the organization and the executive are to move through the succession. Finally, in the case of a retiring executive, readiness involves his/her willingness to let go and step into the next chapter of life – to move on and not have one foot in and one foot out of the organization. What drives readiness is preparation.

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Every Nonprofit CEO Needs an Exit Strategy

Every career ends in a transition. It’s just a matter of when, how, and how well managed.

Smart leaders – whether they’re running a business or a nonprofit – know that they’ll leave their role at some point. They know that every job and every career ends in a transition eventually. It’s just a matter of when, how, and how well managed that transition is when the time comes.

The longer an executive has been in place,
the more challenges the successor will likely face.

When CEOs move on – especially if they’re a founder, a long-tenured executive, or a transformational leader – their organization needs to devote appropriate time and resources to managing the transition, ensuring that it’s more than just a search and hiring exercise. The longer an executive has been in place, or the more significant their impact on the organization, the harder they are to succeed and the more challenges the successor will likely face. An exit strategy can help pave the way for a smoother transition.

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Review – The Sustainability Mindset

tsm-cvrReviewed by Don Tebbe

I pre-ordered this book as soon as I heard about it. I was expecting a sequel to Zimmerman and Bell’s earlier book, Nonprofit Sustainability. But The Sustainability Mindset is actually a successor to that important, earlier work. Available from Amazon.com.

My first impression is awe at the authors’ ability to pack so many rich ideas and useful tools into just 200 pages. Beyond the sage advice, I counted no less than 43 figures, 7 tables, 4 sample exhibits, 3 case studies and 23 templates.

The book walks you through a six-step sustainability planning process. As in their earlier work, the central tool of this book is the “matrix map,” a 2-axis, 4-quadrant table that plots the dual bottom-line of a nonprofit: mission impact and financial viability. The idea is that the leadership team assesses the organization’s programs and determines each program’s “profitability” and mission impact. The results are plotted on the matrix map, using circles that are scaled according to each program’s expenses. The composite map provides a comprehensive picture of the organization’s business model. See the example below.

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6 Signs That It’s Time to Move On

Leading well includes leaving well. That means taking charge of your exit.

Deciding when to move on – that it’s time to retire, shift into an encore career, or otherwise leave your leadership role – and head toward life’s next chapter may be the most challenging decision of your career. Some leaders make this decision easily and move forward gracefully. Others delay, postpone, and defer until circumstances take over. They hang on too long until the “it’s time to leave” signals become so blindingly obvious that they can no longer be avoided. Still other executives never seem to get the message and have to be subtly, or sometimes not so subtly, forced out of their positions. This article covers six classic signs that it might be time to prepare your exit plan.

Leading well includes leaving well, and that means taking charge of your exit and leaving on a high note. Choosing how to exit your role may be the ultimate act of leadership. The first step is determining when it’s time to move on.

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7 Factors that Predict Healthy Aging

(and 6 Factors that Don’t)

We are bombarded by contradictory information about what it means to grow old, is how psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor George Vaillant begins Aging Well, his landmark book (Vaillant 2002). He goes on to give us the facts, drawing from three separate longevity studies that tracked the lives of 824 individuals for more than 50 years, beginning in their teens. (The subjects included male Harvard graduates from the 1940s, a group of women from diverse backgrounds who were identified as “gifted” as children, and a group of inner-city male dropouts.)

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Review – Live Smart

Live Smart After 50!, by Natalie Eldridge

Two heads are better than one. So how about 33? Live Smart After 50! compiles advice from 33 retirement advice experts from the Life Planning Network. Live Smart After 50! offers a holistic perspective for retirement planning, covering a wide spectrum of issues central to your life during retirement.

Live Smart After 50! doesn’t shy away from topics that might make the reader uncomfortable. The section entitled, “Sex: Are Older People Doing It?” dispels some commonly-held myths about sexuality among older adults.  In the “Your Wishes Matter” section, the author covers “things you would rather not think about,” with some common-sense advice for estate-planning, and items so obvious you might have missed them. Do you know who the beneficiaries are for your IRA? Have you reviewed that information in the past 10 years? The author of this section points out that a will alone is no longer considered sufficient estate-planning.

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Review – Second Acts

Second Acts: Creating the Life You Really Want, Building the Career You Truly Desire, by Stephen M. Pollan

In Second Acts, life coach Stephen Pollan counsels his readers through the complicated process of beginning a new career. Pollan directs the reader to get a notebook and begin writing down the practical and emotional obstacles they need to overcome in pursuit of their goals. Second Acts makes a convincing case for planning instead of wishing. The author suggests that the reader may balk at the idea of “taking what should be a romantic adventure and turning it into a prosaic project.” But if you follow his thorough guide for planning your second act, you’ll have an invaluable resource for keeping yourself on task.

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