I recently finished reading Working Across Generations: Defining the Future of Nonprofit Leadership for our January Page to Practice™, and one of the points in the book has stuck with me: The leadership “crisis” that the sector has been anticipating since CompassPoint’s Daring to Lead study came out in 2001 hasn’t really occurred. Instead, Daring to Lead 2006 reiterated the same daunting statistic: 75 percent of executive directors planned to leave their jobs within the next five years. But five years had elapsed between the two reports, and the much-anticipated turnover still hasn’t happened! (Like many others, I wrote about how nonprofits can prepare for the coming leadership transition back in 2007.)
So, what did happen? It appears that a closer look at the findings reveal that, while 75 percent of EDs planned to leave their jobs within the next five years, only 17 percent said they were planning to retire. Instead, the vast majority said they wanted to keep working in nonprofits. Turns out the real issue is not that EDs want to retire or leave the sector; they just want to leave their jobs because they are so stressful.
That’s a scary thought, especially considering that, eventually, Boomers will have to leave their positions—and what message does this unhappiness in their current positions send to the younger generations who will replace them? More and more I read about younger generations who really want to make a difference in the world (just look at the participation of young people in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign), but many of them, I’m sure, see this malaise among their older colleagues as discouraging—and not very appealing, to say the least. Who would want to take on a job that is so stressful that over half of those who hold it want to leave?
I’m wondering what leaders who are getting ready to depart have to say about their work, their jobs, their frustrations, joys, etc.? What words of wisdom do they have for the younger generations who are waiting to fill their shoes? And what about the Gen Xers and Millenials—how do they feel about taking on this immense responsibility of leading our social change organizations into the future? It would be interesting to hear from both sides.