“Our sector’s challenge is to move beyond episodic and scattered attention to leader transitions and leader development to a consistent and thoughtful ongoing strategy,” claims Tom Adams, author of The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide.
Leading in the nonprofit sector isn’t easy. When surveyed, 75 percent of nonprofit leaders are planning to leave their positions in the next five years with some already in the process. At the same time, 71 percent of these organizations have no succession plan in place. What becomes of organizations that experience its leader’s exit without a plan? Results and impact pay the price.
Adams establishes in his book that there is an irrefutable connection between effective leaders and organizational results and impact. He further introduces the topic of transition planning and talent development by defining a “leaderful” organization:
“A nonprofit that consistently pays attention to and invests in leader transitions and leader development. These organizations live out their belief that there is a direct link between the effectiveness of their leaders and their impact in the world.”
Adams acknowledges there are common reasons for inaction, which are rooted in deeply ingrained defenses or rationalizations for not engaging in succession planning. Some of these rationalizations may sound familiar:
“Sure, investing in leaders is important, but we don’t have the resources.”
“I don’t expect to leave any time soon, so why worry about the executive change now?”
“We’ll get to that as soon as we finish this big project.”
Adams challenges you to reexamine these and other half-truths and reminds us there is great opportunity within leader transitions, such as changing direction, maintaining momentum and strengthening your capacity. So what behaviors do leaderful organizations exhibit?
There are two practices that advance leaderful organizations during and before leader transitions:
1) succession planning (which is of three types—emergency, departure-defined and ongoing leader development/talent management) and
2) executive transition management (which includes three phases Adams describes as “prepare, pivot and thrive” as well as a focus on organizational capacity, direction, priorities, required leader competencies, and proactive search and successful entry and connection of the new executive).
In this article, we’ll focus on the first practice. Succession plans can take on many forms. Adams elaborates on this topic in the adjacent table and shares a few essential elements to consider when in the early stages of preparing a plan. He explains the kind of succession planning you are doing will determine what is in your plan.
Let this list from Adams be a prompt for you to consider what might belong in your succession plan. More importantly, don’t let your organization’s impact be diminished because you waited too long.
The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide by Tom Adams