Leadership Development and Succession

Are you serious about sustainability?

Nonprofits that are serious about their own sustainability will also be serious about planning for smooth and thoughtful leadership transitions. Planning for leadership transition should take into consideration not only planned transitions but also unplanned ones -- whether for staff or board leaders -- and sustainability also means cross-training staff so that important day-to-day functions will continue uninterrupted. Who is responsible for all this planning? The board development committee or "board governance" committee will generally focus on leadership succession at the board level, while staff is most often charged with identifying transition plans for staff leadership succession, whether planned or unexpected. However, because the board is ultimately responsible for oversight of the executive director, typically it is the board's role to initiate succession planning for the executive director.

Leadership Transition Planning Includes:

  1. Gaining the commitment of board and staff to manage the transition intentionally. Will a consultant be engaged?
  2. Identifying current challenges and those that lie ahead, and the corresponding leadership qualities that are needed to navigate these challenges successfully.
  3. Consideration of whether placing an interim leader at the helm is the right path for your nonprofit.
  4. Drafting a timeline for leadership successions that are planned.
  5. Creating an Emergency Leadership Transition Plan to address the timely delegation of duties and authority when there is an unexpected transition or interruption in leadership.
  6. Identifying leadership development opportunities for staff and board members to expand their leadership skills so that the organization will have a "deeper bench" of future leaders.
  7. Cross-training current staff to minimize the disruption from unexpected staffing changes.
  8. Making plans to adequately support newly placed employees, such as with coaching.
  9. Identifying how your organization will communicate with stakeholders before, during, and after a transition of leadership.

Emergency Succession Planning

Every nonprofit needs a plan to deal with an unexpected event, such as the unexpected departure of key leaders: Here's a Toolkit for drafting your own emergency succession plan. (Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City)

Planned Leadership Succession

If your organization is facing the prospect of losing a leader, the future can look cloudy! Clear the air with a plan for leadership succession: Managing Executive Transitions: A Guide for Nonprofits, by Tim Wolfred guides nonprofits through a change in leadership and helps boards and executive directors handle leadership turnovers to set the nonprofit on a path to long-term success. TransitionGuides.com offers helpful resources, including template succession policies, as well as links to other publications on the topic of leadership succession and succession planning.

Additional Resources

"The domain of leaders is the future. The leader's unique legacy is the creation of valued institutions that survive over time. The most significant contribution leaders make is not simply to today's bottom line; it is to the long-term development of people and institutions so they can adapt, change, prosper, and grow." 

Source: The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes & Posner (2007)