A few years ago, I reached the end of my rope leading an association I helped co-found. Without going into the gory details, the bottom line is I didn’t depart – despite my exhaustion - until I knew there was a successor who understood the organisation and could reasonably lead forward. In a twist of humourous fate that person turned out to be my spouse, so in many respects the ‘baby’ remains in our lives as an adolescent who has now become an adult.
It is good practice to measure and objectively self-assess one's participation, particularly if one has served a long time. Indeed, fresh ideas on boards are a blessing and oftentimes needed, but some attempt to frame tenure as a dirty word which connotes a loss of vision or stunted performance. This is a mistake which settles for the punch line without proper identification of root causes or ‘gory details’ which can contribute to how that leadership manifests.
Should an executive director, officer, or board member choose to resign or retire, the best gift or legacy he or she can leave behind is a new leader who brings energy, vision, purpose, and high quality execution to the organisation. I consider it a fiduciary responsibility.
For the highest performing boards, departing leaders can pull individuals from the existing crop of directors. These members have already expressed an interest in the entity, its mission, and its work - and 'promoting from within' ensures a smoother transition with leaders at the helm who understand the nonprofit and retain invaluable organisational memory. On the other hand, boards which struggle with quality leadership must recruit from the stakeholder pool of the community-at-large. To do otherwise merely cements the fate of that entity.
In other parts of this blog, we've touched on Founder's Syndrome and its flip side, where Wizard of Oz superstars can burn out. Nonetheless, a leadership vacuum without contextual framework is not what you want to leave behind while escaping for greener pastures.
Sit down with board members to strategise about the traits and qualifications your new leader should possess, then engage stakeholders to identify potential candidates.