Prepare, Pivot & Thrive - Succession, Strategy, Sustainability & Search

Daring To Lead Actions


 Actions you can take to increase leader effectiveness and organizational impact.

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, TransitionGuides president, Tom Adams, highlights a disconnect between a widely held belief that there’s a link between leadership and organizational effectiveness, and the nonprofit sector’s support for leadership development and succession. Drawing on the Daring to Lead 2011 report, the third iteration of this national study, Adams points to the underinvestment in leadership – lack of attention to succession planning, performance management, nurturing the CEO-Board relationships, and support for new chief executives.  This underinvestment represents a disconnect with the belief in the leadership effectiveness-organizational results connection.  In short, if we care about organizational impact and believe in the leadership-organizational effectiveness link, as a sector, we should be paying closer attention to leadership support, growth and development.

Investment in leadership support, growth and development requires more than an investment of dollars.  The biggest need is a shift in behavior – taking actions, investing time and attention in leadership. Here are some simple things that boards, executives and foundation leaders can do:

1. Pay greater attention to executive succession.  Succession planning not only provides a roadmap to manage executive turnover, especially chief executives, it also increases the succession competency of board and staff teams.  Begin with an honest acknowledgement that every career ends in a transition. Succession planning allows us to look at what actions are needed to strengthen the organization:  its business model and business strategy; its leadership – both board and staff; its resource base; and finally its culture.  It can also provide guidance on how to deal with unexpected absences.  Here are some links to succession planning resources:

a. The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide, by Tom Adams See Chapters 6 & 7

b. Stepping Up, Staying Engaged: Succession Planning and Executive Transition Management for Nonprofit Boards of Directors

c. Building Leaderful Organizations 

d. Raffa Succession Planning Services

e. Raffa Succession Policy Template

f. Raffa Succession Planning Template

2. Manage executive transitions. Executive transition management is a proven three-stage process for managing chief executive turnover. The process encourages the board to take the time to assess and understand the organization’s current and future leadership needs as well as the legacy and other issues that will affect the success of the transition.  Here are some links to executive transition management resources:

a. Executive Transition Management Resources

b. Chief Executive Transitions: How to Hire and Support a Nonprofit CEO, by Don Tebbe

c. Founder Transitions: Creating Good Endings and New Beginnings

d. Capturing the Power of Leadership Change: Using Executive Transition  Management to Strengthen Organizational Capacity

e. Raffa  Executive Transition Management Services

3. Invest in your future leaders. Unfortunately, too many nonprofits are “talent miners” rather than talent developers. Their approach is to go mining for talent nuggets that have been developed elsewhere. When we nurture the growth and development of the people working for us, we strengthen the leadership-organizational effectiveness link, as well as develop a pipeline of leaders who understand our organization and its culture at a deep level. Moreover, as the labor market contracts with the baby boomers retiring, talent mining is going to become much harder.   In nearly every community, you can access rich resources to assist you in developing your people, everything from formal nonprofit degree programs to one-day trainings offered by your local management support organization or United Way. Here are some links to leader development: 

a. BoardSource Assess to Advance a CEO performance evaluation tool

b. TransitionGuides article on leadership agenda and Board-Executive Social Contract

c. Talent management

d. Leader development

e. Leader development

f. The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide, by Tom Adams See Chapter 8

Overview of Talent Management

Leader development,succession planning and executive transition management are vital elements of an overall talent management system or approach. Talent Managment links organizational goals and organizational performance through strategic management of human resources.

Talent Management Graphic

4. Invest in the diversity of your leadership. The racial and ethnic diversity of your community can influence the leader development agenda. Many organizations – the  Denver Foundation, Third Sector New England, the Council of Michigan Foundations, and the Baltimore-Washington Racial Diversity Collaborative, among others – offer concrete ways to include attention to changing demographics and community cultures in an effective leader development agenda. The high-performing organization sustains success by a growing a pool of diverse, creative leaders who are attentive to the shifting needs of their constituents. Here are some links to sources on diversity in leadership development:

a. Racial and Equity Institute

b. The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide, by Tom Adams See Chapter 4 on racial and generational diversity.

5. Provide better support for new executives. The first 90-100 days are the most critical in a new job, and the first year can be the most critical time in a new career. Unfortunately, too many boards, in their behavior, assume a sink-or-swim stance with their new executive. Or they assume that, once the search is complete, it’s back to business as usual.  Neither of these approaches is particularly effective, especially considering that two thirds of new nonprofit chief executives are new to that role.  Boards that understand that they must “co-create” a relationship with their new executive and those that understand the well-researched stages that executives move through in their new role, are not only getting better outcomes, they’re actually living up to the key element of their fiduciary role. Here are some links to executive support and onboarding:

a. Raffa Post-Hire Stage Resources.

b. Chief Executive Transitions: How to Hire and Support a Nonprofit CEO, by Don Tebbe

c. The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels, by Michael Watkins

d. Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time by George Bradt

6. Better understand the leadership effectiveness-organizational results link. Begin with asking yourself and your leadership team the fundamental question:  As a leader, do you truly believe there is a direct relationship between effective leadership and organizational impact?  If your answer is yes, you must invest in retaining the wisdom of departing leaders even as you invest in the development of the next cadre. Here are some steps to advance the conversation:

a. Read Daring to Lead 2011, and consider the implications for your organization.

b. Engage your managers, staff, and board in this same discussion.

c. Choose among actions and investments you might make and get to work.





We Wrote the Books on Nonprofit Leadership Transition



The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide: Proven Paths for Leaders and Organizations      
by Tom Adams

Chief Executive Transitions: How to Hire and Support a Nonprofit CEO        
by Don Tebbe
Click Here for More Information
Chief Executive Transitions:
How to Hire and Support a Nonprofit CEO
by Don Tebbe